2017-10-15 / Insight

Police involvement a ‘short-term’ solution to domestic violence

BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com


Domestic incidents are among the most dangerous situation police encounter on a daily basis,” said Lapeer County Undersheriff Jeremy Howe. 
Photo by Phil Foley Domestic incidents are among the most dangerous situation police encounter on a daily basis,” said Lapeer County Undersheriff Jeremy Howe. Photo by Phil Foley LAPEER COUNTY — It’s not terrorists. It’s not bank robbers. Ask any cop and they’ll tell you the most dangerous situation they face day in and day out are domestic incidents.

“It’s our number one call in the county,” said Lapeer County Undersheriff Jeremy Howe.

According to the Michigan Incident Crime Reporting (MICR) domestic violence statistics for 2013 (the latest report available) Lapeer County had 552 domestic violence victims, and 34 percent were males — though the report does not make a distinction between adults and children.

So far, this year, the Lapeer Police Dept. has handled 27 domestic violence cases, representing about a third of all assault cases in the city. Chief Dave Frisch noted, “Historically, 80 percent of victims are female and 20 percent are male.”

Domestic incidents, Howe said, are one of the most dangerous calls police go on. “The unknowns are so great. You always go in with a heightened state of awareness,” Howe said, noting there’s always at least two people involved and alcohol and controlled substances are often a contributing factor.

Imlay City Police Chief Scott Pike said the biggest change in his three decades of law enforcement has been how domestic violence is viewed. Until the early 1980s it was treated the same as simple assault, which Pike said made it something of a “revolving door.”

He said, “A lot of times violators would be taken to a friend’s house and then return to assault their partner again.”

The ‘80s, he said, saw laws sweep the country that mandated the aggressor be arrested. He added another change is an expansion of the definition of what domestic violence means.

Pike said when he first got involved law enforcement, domestic meant the traditional 1950s-60s married couple, but over time that’s expanded to include boyfriend-girlfriend and roommate relationships.

He said there’s also been a growing awareness of what domestic violence is and its consequences.

That, Howe said, has contributed to an increased danger in dealing with domestic calls. He said police frequently find themselves going to homes where the man “has been to jail before and isn’t going again.”

That is why whenever possible two officers enter a home where a domestic incident has been reported.

This allows the officers to physically separate the parties and ensures their safety as well as the safe- ty of those in the home.

Frisch noted that to make an arrest, officers only need “reasonable cause” to believe violation occurred or is occurring. That’s a considerably lower standard than the “probable cause,” required for most other actions.

Howe said the first thing police do when then arrive at a domestic scene is assess the threat. Officers need to determine “is there anything that can harm me or anyone else in the room?” They then need to separate the parties and find out what happened.

Pike noted while he and other officers received extensive training at the academy and undergo ongoing training, “they didn’t issue me a crystal ball.”

He said getting to the bottom of domestic incidents is often difficult because “they’re highly charged situations where everyone is upset” that are often further muddled by alcohol.

Frisch said the victim is always provided with information on where the police report can be obtained; on the domestic violence shelter and the legal rights of domestic violence victims; how to obtain a Personal Protection Order; and their right to go to court and get a show cause order. He said they’re also provided with the name and phone number of the responding agency and the name and badge number of the responding officer.

Pike believes Imlay City has a slightly lower incidence of domestic violence. He said that may be a result of the city’s size, demographics or his officers’ intimate knowledge of the community.

But he added, police involvement is only a “short-term solution.” He said the things that lead to domestic violence are learned behaviors and a 30-45-minute contact with police isn’t going to change them.

Howe said LACADA has been “a godsend” for law enforcement. It gives police a safe place to take or suggest victims of violence go to. “It’s huge for us,” he said. “It gives us the ability to get women out of homes. Often they have no place to go. They don’t even have a car.”

Frisch noted that while domestic violence appears to be down this year compared to last year with 31 percent compared to 36 percent of the assault cases being domestic, there’s still two-and-a-half months to go and they include Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. He said it’s the time of year when stress and alcohol use spike.

Like his colleagues, Howe called domestic violence a “vicious cycle.” He said, “I remember kids watching me take their dads to jail and now I’m taking them to jail.”

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