I received an email from a college student doing research on police response to domestic violence calls. They were interested in knowing (1) why domestic calls were so dangerous for police officers, and (2) how we handled these incidents. I thought they were both good questions. And since more than half of my calls in the past decade have been domestics, it is fair to say that cops deal with more of these than any other single problem.
Love Hurts: Why Domestics Are So Dangerous
Domestics can be plain deadly for cops. Even small towns like this are not immune. The parties are upset and emotional. Often they are under the influence. More times than I can count, both parties turn on the police when we get there. Countless victims have assaulted officers when they realized that we planned to take their spouse to jail. “I just wanted you to stop him. I can’t live without him. I love him.” And the fight is on with both halves of the problem. These are people whose most sacred and safe relationships have fallen apart. Add a tablespoon of authority and stand back! For good background on policing domestic violence, check out this link.
Domestic Violence 101: What Cops Do When They Arrive
In a sentence, we attempt to calm the parties, separate them, and interview to determine if a crime has occurred. If there has been a crime, we arrest a person the lawyers call the, “Primary Aggressor.” This can range from the person who started the fight to the person who has the worst injuries. Sometimes we can’t tell, and both people are off to the big house.
I have always noted the increasingly difficult and complicated job that cops are expected to perform. Remember that a cop can be a 22-year-old former student with a GED certificate. God bless that guy, and some of the best cops I know come from blue collar backgrounds. Just remember that at the crime scene at 2:00 AM we expect him or her to make complex legal and ethical decisions. All while being assaulted, cussed out, spit on, and generally treated like trash.
Okay, One War Story
I responded to a “routine” domestic violence call. Now my boss would scoff at the term, since cops all learn that no call is routine. Sure, but after 10 years of false alarms and situations that had ended an hour before we got there, anyone can get complacent. I was a block away and locked up my breaks when I saw this nightmare in the street: In an active lane of traffic was a woman lying on her back, covered in blood. A male (her loving husband) straddled her waist, and was repeatedly stabbing her in the chest with a butcher knife. Each time he pulled out the knife, I saw blood flying over his head. He let out a grunt with each penetration of her chest.
It turns out he had just discovered his darling was “seeing someone else” and he felt that was not appropriate. So why not just kill her, he figured. She survived, by the way, and he did too, albeit just barely. More on that after I retire. Hopefully he will be in prison forever. Good outcome to an incident, and one that shows how hot these calls really are. In over a decade, this is one of the few that kept me up a few nights.
I hope these explanations and my little anecdote provide a bit of brief insight into a complex and dangerous problem. Let me know and we can talk more about it…
If you arrived at this post because you or a friend have been a victim, please call your local police department or 9-1-1 for help. Do not assume things will get better by themselves; they will not. Also see this site for excellent victim support links.