Domestic Violence is the violation of a trust between two people which involves the threat or use of force to compel the behaviour of the other person. As such the law enforcement approach to it must be differentiated from that of violence and threats among strangers or acquaintances without a mutual bond. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
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Violence between strangers can easily be mitigated by separation and a “cooling off” period or the perception of justice served. In domestic cases there is the added dynamic that the parties either cohabitate or are mutually entangled through circumstances such as having a child in common. Separation is often impractical and not desired by either party. In these circumstances law enforcement and the courts are in a position to either escalate or reduce the conflict and level of violence.
Some jurisdiction have implemented “must arrest” laws which require law enforcement to arrest one or both parties involved in a dispute. Some have been repealed for various reasons including that the arrest rate for women rose dramatically or that parties who had not previously engaged in physical violence did so after arrest.
When a person who has not been physically violent toward the demure partner is arrested that can lead to acts of physical violence. Where the once effective verbal intimidation has been thwarted there comes a need to escalate to maintain control. Couple this to the anger accompanying an arrest and physical violence is more likely.
When there is existing physical violence an arrest is likely to reduce the violence, at least for that moment. Whether it escalates later is often dependent upon the justness perception. If only one party to a mutually combative relationship is arrested then violence is likely to increase by the emboldened aggressor [not arrested] and the retaliatory aggressor [arrested] feeling that justice has not been delivered. In mutually combative situations law enforcement should arrest both parties.
Parties mutually engaged in violence or on the brink who are not arrested receive the message that it is not a serious offense and that it is incumbent upon them to settle their dispute which may include the use of violence. When diplomacy has already failed, the requirement that parties resolve their dispute independently requires that one party concede or that it be resolved through physical combat.
As relayed to me by a witness, on 01 March in Lebanon, Indiana units of the Lebanon Police Department and the Lebanon Fire Department responded to a violent domestic case at the home of a man and woman after neighbors called for police assistance. The conflict between the two had been ongoing. On this day it moved from inside the home to the driveway and roadway as the woman attempted to leave. While still arguing and yelling at each other the man used his body to block the vehicle to keep the woman from leaving. This is the offense of Obstruction of Traffic an arrestable offense.[en1] It could be considered Criminal Confinement depending upon the circumstances.[en2] The woman then accelerated, struck the man with her vehicle, and left him lying in the road. The driving portion of this is the offense of Leaving the Scene of an Accident[en3] -- potentially with serious bodily injury.
Striking a spouse or person living as a spouse with a motor vehicle also meets the definition of an act of Domestic Violence.[en4] The woman returned about five minutes later which indicates that she was fleeing for fear of her immediate safety. Although the man had visible injuries he refused medical treatment. Neither party was arrested or cited. I feel this was in error.
The message delivered to these combatants -- and the community at-large -- is that if you are involved in a mutually aggressive domestic altercation that results in physical injury you won’t be arrested for causing it, or that if it happened to you the party who caused it won’t be arrested. You can be left to settle your dispute on your own - likely with violence!
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