The Herald Bulletin

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October 13, 2012

Special report: Strike, and we 'shall arrest'

Law enforcement takes aggressive stance toward responding to volatile domestic violence calls

ANDERSON, Ind. — The dispatcher repeated the address as Anderson policeman Chad Boynton scrolled it onto his notepad, preparing to visit the scene of a reported domestic disturbance.

Police had been called by someone at Alternatives, Inc. who was concerned about a woman who had been at the shelter a few days before. Boynton arrived at the house moments later and quickly got out of his patrol car, heading to the door. As he walked toward it, he checked out the surroundings, staying alert.

Domestic violence calls are among the most unpredictable situations facing the police who first respond to them. The emotions of victims and abusers can be highly charged and volatile.

A strong knock at the door and an anxious and disheveled woman appeared, sticking only her head out of the door.

Boynton asked to come inside, but instead, the woman sheepishly came out, closing the door behind her. She wore no shoes or socks on the cool and rainy fall evening. Within minutes, Boynton determined the woman was the victim in question and that her abuser, her husband, was inside. She cowered in fear on the front porch, turning around every few seconds to see if her husband was peering out the window. She spoke in only a whisper to Boynton, whose voice softened as he asked about what her husband had done.

Backup officers arrived. The victim showed them the still-visible injuries to her head — a red ring where her husband had hit her with a hammer.

Police discovered the husband was wanted in connection with the earlier hammer attack, and although the woman was hesitant, Boynton entered the home to make the arrest.

One officer watched the rear of the home while another kept an eye on the front door. Eventually, Boynton brought out the suspect. As the man was taken to a police car he screamed, practically spitting at his wife, “I hate you!”

“It’s tough to see these things sometimes,” Boynton said.

‘Shall arrest’

Boynton’s case is just one of many that he and officers across the county encounter every day.

Less than 10 years ago, the domestic violence arrest rate for Madison County law enforcement officers was 29 percent — arrests were made in less than 30 percent of the times they were called to respond. Through September of this year, those same agencies now have a domestic violence arrest rate of 73 percent, well above the statewide average of about 50 percent.

And while that number has risen, so have the number of calls. There have been 568 domestic violence related calls in Madison County through September; that’s about 100 shy of the 675 calls received for all of 2011 and more than received in all of 2007.

In his 14 years with APD, Boynton said he’s seen the number of calls increase. He thinks that increase can be attributed to victims and passers-by being more likely to report violence.

Kandi Floyd, a victim’s advocate for Alternatives, said the jump in the arrest rate can be credited to the county’s commitment to addressing the domestic violence epidemic through mandated training for law enforcement and the adoption of a “shall arrest” policy.

That policy, Boynton explained, means that if an officer has the probable cause to believe a domestic battery has occurred, then that officer must arrest the aggressor even if the victim is reluctant or refuses to cooperate. The prosecutor will file the charges on the victim’s behalf.

Unpredictable situations

The Elwood Police Department boasts a nearly 100 percent arrest record for domestic violence. The crime is something that Elwood Sgt. and K-9 officer Zach Taylor said officers there take seriously.

Elwood Assistant Police Chief Scott Bertram said the department “revamped” all of its policies and approaches to several crimes after the department received a “black eye” in a domestic-violence related situation.

In 2008, the department released a domestic violence suspect against its own policy less than 24 hours after he was arrested. Less than a day later, he killed his estranged wife and then himself.

“We have a much more aggressive stance now,” Bertram said. “Across the state, many departments have an ‘old school’ thought process — let’s just separate them so we don’t have to take anyone to jail. If there is the slightest violation of the law they will go to jail so two hours later we don’t discover someone seriously beaten or worse, dead. There are too many unknowns today to overlook something.”

It is standard policy countywide that anyone charged with a domestic violence-related charge be held in jail for 24 hours before being released on bond. Those suspects are to be given a “no contact” order — they aren’t to contact the victim in any way — as a condition of their release when they are able to bond out.

Although Taylor couldn’t pinpoint a number, he said it is clear the majority of the department’s calls are related to domestic violence.

“It can turn from bad to worse real quick,” he said. “And things can be even more unpredictable and dangerous if drugs and alcohol are involved. It is pretty common for those to go hand in hand with domestic violence.”

Responding to calls

In July, three local policemen were shot, with one seriously injured, and a police K-9 dog killed when responding to a domestic violence call in Pendleton. The shooter, who had earlier threatened his ex-wife, also killed a passer-by and then took his own life.

“You never know what can happen in one of these calls,” Taylor said. “It could seem like the simplest call and then you could get shot at. In every single call something bad could happen at any time.”

The situation in Pendleton was a dark reminder of the danger in responding to these calls.

“It hits close to home,” Boynton said. “It shows you how volatile and explosive domestic violence calls can be.”

Boynton said officers typically respond to calls that have come in through 911 by the victims themselves, a neighbor or another witness. Police first make sure the parties involved, as well as the officers and the general community, are safe.

The victim and suspect are separated and interviewed as evidence is gathered. A videotaped statement is taken from the victim as well as photos of injuries. Those can be used later for evidence in court; they’re critical if a victim later decides to recant or not cooperate.

A “victim’s rights” card is handed out to explain what their rights are, as well as other resources such as where to get help. The officer can notify Alternatives or the department’s victim’s assistance unit if needed.

‘Making a difference’

Madison County Sheriff Ron Richardson said that changes have been made because departments are working together and with other agencies. A standard domestic violence policy has been adopted by every law enforcement agency in the county that takes a strong stance against domestic violence.

“This is something that has affected our society for so many years,” Richardson said. “We are trying to make things better — educating our officers so we can do a better job, educating victims that there is help out there for them and educating the community about domestic violence — all of that making a difference.

“We all have hope; we are all working together to try to combat this unfortunate situation we have in our community.”

Taylor encouraged those in the community to stand up for victims. He said if anyone suspects a battery is occurring to call police, even doing so anonymously if they are concerned about repercussions.

“If you think something is going on, more than likely it is,” Taylor said. Bertram said violence builds, so if it can be stopped in the beginning, outcomes are better.

“It increases over time,” he said. “Anything is a big deal. It could start out with just a shove. But that could turn into a murder.”

Find Abbey Doyle on Facebook and @heraldbulletin on Twitter, or call 640-4805.

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