Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

Information for Professionals

Criminal Justice

Overview of the Issue
Initial Law Enforcement Officer Response

Initial law enforcement officer response is crucial in all cases involving domestic violence. Accurate identification and response to domestic violence establishes essential information and documentation necessary for the case to proceed through the System.

This section provides police with strategies when responding to domestic incident calls, and describes the basic functions of enhancing the safety of those who have been abused while holding offenders accountable.

Approaching the Scene

Approach the scene of a domestic incident as one of high risk. Obtain all available information from the dispatcher before arriving at the scene and notify the dispatcher upon arrival.

Unless the circumstances of a particular incident require different measures, you should:

  • Approach the scene inconspicuously.
  • Do not use sirens or lights in the immediate area of the scene of the incident.
  • Park away from the immediate scene of the incident.
  • Keep a safe exit route in mind.
  • Be alert for the employment of weapons from doors, windows, or nearby vehicles.
  • Be alert for persons moving away from the immediate scene of the incident.
  • Employ other standard precautionary measures for approaching high-risk scenes.

Initial Contact


Initial contact with the parties involved in a domestic incident can be dangerous for everyone involved, including the responding officers. Your safety is paramount, as you will be less able to assist the victim(s) or respond to the offender appropriately if you should become injured and/or incapacitated while taking control of the scene.


As a responding officer, you should:
  • always assume that there are firearms or other weapons located at the scene.
  • remember that anytime you are intervening in an alleged domestic incident, you are approaching a potential homicide, where the perpetrator’s violence can extend to anyone who threatens his own sense of power and control, and the victim(s) and children are often terrified that cooperating with you will increase their safety risk once you leave.
  • identify yourself as soon as possible – through the door if necessary.
  • explain the reason for your presence, without identifying the person who made the 911 call.
  • request entry into the home or business. Remember, while domestic violence is NOT a “private problem” you are entering someone’s home or personal space. Always attempt to do so in as dignified a manner as possible by requesting entry and access to the home/location and the people in it before pursuing more forceful means.
  • ask to see the person who is the subject of the call (usually the individual alleged to have perpetrated the violence)

Entry

Upon arriving at the scene of any alleged domestic incident:
  • Enter and conduct a search of the premises relevant to the incident if written or verbal consent has been given to do so.
  • If refused entry, be persistent about seeing and speaking alone with the subject of the call.
  • If access to the subject is refused, request the dispatcher to contact the caller if the caller is the subject of the call.
  • Forced entry may be necessary and appropriate when
  • The residence area shows signs of a fight or scuffle or
  • A person from inside the residence calls for assistance or is yelling or
  • A person from inside is visible and the law enforcement officers observe that the person is wounded, injured, or is otherwise in need of assistance.
  • Limit the search to one for other suspects, victims, witnesses, or evidence connected with the alleged incident.

Establishing Control of the Scene


As the responding officer on the scene of a domestic incident, you need to quickly and safely take control of the environment and put your safety and that of any potential victims first while managing the perpetrator. You must, as quickly and safely as possible:

  • Identify and securing potential weapons in the surroundings.
  • Separate victim and children from the alleged abuser
  • Assess injuries (including inquiry about possible internal injuries), administer first aid, and/or notify emergency medical services.
  • Identify all occupants and witnesses on or near the premises.
  • Separate occupants and witnesses from the victim and accused and keep them out of hearing range (to avoid compromising their witness status.)

On-Scene Investigation


Conduct an investigation using the same procedures used in any other on-scene criminal investigation by attempting to establish the existence of credible, corroborative evidence.

Make specific note of and document all statements made by the victim, the accused and all accessible witnesses, particularly those statements that may be admissible as evidence as exceptions to the hearsay rule such as excited utterances*, present sense impression* and statements made for medical treatment.

You also need to determine if any such statements were made to the dispatcher and take appropriate measures to secure and preserve such evidence (i.e. 911 recordings, etc)

Necessary Definitions:

  • Excited Utterance is a statement relating to a startling event or condition made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement caused by the event or condition. The declaration need not be strictly contemporaneous with the existing cause, nor is there a definite and fixed time limit. The crucial question, regardless of the time lapse, is whether, at the time the statement is made, the nervous excitement continues to dominate while the reflective processes remain in abeyance, there is no time to reflect to make up a story or excuse.

    Examples include: "Look out! We're going to crash!" or "I think he's crazy. He's shooting at us!" The basis for this hearsay exception is the belief that a statement made under the stress is likely to be trustworthy and unlikely to be premeditated falsehoods.

  • Present Sense Impression is a statement describing or explaining an event or condition made while the declarant was perceiving the event or condition, or immediately thereafter. For this exception to apply, the declarant need not be excited or otherwise emotionally affected by the event or condition perceived. The trustworthiness of the statement arises from its timing. The requirement of contemporaneousness, or near contemporaneousness, reduces the chance of premeditated prevarication or loss of memory.

    Example: "it's cold" or "we're going really fast".

Evidence Collection


Police must:

  • Collect evidence so that, in the event the victim does not testify. the prosecution may go forward with an ‘evidence based prosecution’ regardless.
  • Make cases where a victim’s statement corroborates the rest of the evidence collected, not one that relies primarily on the victim’s testimony.
  • Take photographs whenever possible, including:
    • Physical injuries
    • Property damage
    • Children at the scene
  • Document statements whenever possible, including:
  • Excited utterances
  • Present sense impressions
  • Victim statements made to their physical and emotional condition
  • Suspect spontaneous admissions
  • Children’s statements
  • Witnesses and others with knowledge of the current or prior incidents
  • Collect any weapon used and charge appropriately
For more information on Evidence Collection, please refer to: Observations, Statements and Reports: A Law Enforcement Checklist

Enforcing an Order of Protection


Ask the victim:

  • “Do you have an Order of Protection against the perpetrator?”
  • “Do you have a hard copy of the Order of Protection with you?”
  • “Can you identify the county and court or magistrate from which the Order or document was issued?”
  • Where the accused has not been served and has not had actual notice of the Order of Protection, if you have a copy to serve upon the accused, serve it now.
  • If you do not have a copy to serve, then give the accused actual notice of the provisions of the Order by stating the provisions of the Order to the accused.
  • If the accused, after having been served with or given actual notice of the Order, then refuses to comply with the order, follow the arrest provisions as required by departmental policy.
  • When you observe any violations of a known probation, or parole condition in cases of crimes between family or household members, arrest the accused for violations of those conditions. This may include the presence of the accused at the home of the victim if the Order of Protection and/or the orders or Probation or Parole prohibit such contact.

 

Coordinated and Consistent Enforcement of Violations of Orders of Protections Can be a Crucial Tool in Stopping Domestic Violence (printer-friendly/pdf)

Interviewing (Victim, Accused, Witnesses, Children)

  • Ensure the victim’s and children’s safety and privacy on the scene by interviewing the victim and children in an area apart from the accused, witnesses, and bystanders, whenever possible.
    • Remember that what you see upon arrival may be misleading.
    • The abuser may appear calm and in control, assuring you that there has only been a minor argument, whereas the actual victim may appear upset and angry, or displaying a “flat affect” (no emotion at all)
  • Never make presumptions based on first impressions. Gather evidence, investigate thoroughly, and listen carefully before taking action.