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Archive for Sunday, January 26, 1992

CURBING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

January 26, 1992

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Concerned that the yelling and screaming she heard was coming from a fight at her neighbor's residence, a Lawrence woman caused police.

Officers arrived at the residence and found another woman, who had been cheering on the Kansas University basketball team not crying in pain or for help.

But because of a new policy mandated by the state, the police work wasn't finished when the officers discovered the commotion was caused by a zealous KU fan and not by a fight. When officers returned to the police station, they were required to file a report on the incident to be placed on permanent record.

The new domestic violence policy is bringing about more paperwork, resulting in more arrests and, during its infancy, causing confusion both among law enforcement officials and the people they're protecting.

ALTHOUGH Police Chief Ron Olin said he isn't opposed to the policy, he says he thinks such cases create a lot of unnecessary work for everyone in law enforcement.

"It creates paperwork where perhaps no paperwork is needed, and it absorbs resources at every level," Olin said.

But paperwork is one of the easier problems local law enforcment officers are dealing with under terms of a new state mandate, which went into effect Jan. 1.

The policy also mandates arrests in every situation where police officers can find evidence of domestic violence.

According to the policy: "presence of probable cause to make an arrest requires the officer to make an arrest, regardless of other factors that could be considered in the case. The emotional state of those involved, the socio-economic impact, effect on the mental status of the children, long-term effects on the family, or the wishes of the victim are not to be considered."

ONE POLICE official says the protocol does not allow officers to deal with a situation where an arrest may not be the answer to the problem.

"Incarceration is not always the answer to societal problems," said Lawrence police Lt. Mark Brothers.

Brothers said if a couple is fighting, for example, and police find evidence one person had slapped the other, the aggressor will be arrested.

According to the policy, police must take that person to the Douglas County Jail even if the victim tells police officers that an arrest is not necessary. Brothers said the arrest might create problems, if the family is suffering from financial difficulty, because bonding the batterer out of jail may mean not feeding the family.

"State law says, `tough, arrest him anyway,'" Brothers said.

ATTY. GEN. Bob Stephan proposed the statute to the Kansas Legislature during the 1991 session. Stephan said last week that the law is not designed to stand in the way of officers' duties but is meant to help crime victims.

"It certainly does remove some discretion, but in the past, normally we're talking about a woman who has been battered and may be afraid to file a report (with a law enforcement agency)," Stephan said, adding that deep down the woman may want to file a complaint. "You just have to weigh what is best for the victim, and I think what is best is this arrest policy.''

Through Friday, Lawrence police had responded to 90 reports of domestic violence since the department's policy went into effect. Forty-three of those incidents resulted in an arrest. Douglas County sheriff's officers have investigated three reports of domestic violence, and one of those cases resulted in an arrest.

Kansas University police have received one report of domestic violence, and an arrest was made in that case.

SHERIFF LOREN Anderson describes the county's new policy as merely the written version of what has existed for years.

Like Lawrence police, Anderson is concerned about the discretion taken away from officers. But a 911 call about an arguing couple does not mean one of them will automatically be taken to the Douglas County Jail, he said.

The policy still calls for officers to conduct a thorough enough investigation to determine whether there is evidence of a crime, such as battery or criminal damage to property. If such evidence is found, they must make an arrest.

Anderson said he thinks the policy lends some consistency to procedure. Every time a domestic violence report is called into 911, law enforcement officials now must investigate even if the reporting party calls back and tells the dispatcher to disregard the report.

The policy also mandates that officers give the victim of domestic violence a reference card containing a list of counseling services and shelters.

THE STATE'S mandate also relieves the victim of filing charges against the abuser, because it takes over the reigns in prosecuting the suspect. Previously if an arrest was made and the victim decided against filing charges, the case was dropped.

Douglas County Dist. Atty. Jerry Wells said judging from the number of reports and arrests made as a result of domestic violence during the first half of January, district attorney's office will increase the number of cases it reviews by 730. In 1991, the DA's office reviewed roughly 2,000 criminal cases.

The district attorney must examine each of the domestic violence cases that result in an arrest to decide whether to file charges against the suspect.

Wells said Friday that of the approximately 45 domestic disturbance arrests made by various law enforcement officers this year, only half of those people will be charged with a crime.

FEW DOMESTIC violence cases ever make it to trial, Wells said, either because the alleged victim doesn't show up or isn't willing to testify.

"When you have an unwilling victim, it does not look good in front of a jury," Wells said.

But Stephan said the new law will educate individuals at every level of law enforcement and the justice system "on why battered women are reluctant to prosecute and why they ask for charges to be dropped." Stephan said he realizes the policy may not be perfect.

Stephan said the paramount issue is caring for the victims of domestic violence.

"The very least they (law enforcement officers) can do is alleviate the immediate danger of the situation," he said.

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