Cops Trained Not To Arrest Domestic Violence Victims

Thomas Breen photoA city police officer responds to a domestic violence call. When he asks the victim what happened, she begins with, “It all started three months ago…”

Thanks to a new state law and requisite police training, that officer is expected actually hear the victim out, and not to arrest both the victim and her abusive partner.

That change in how city police handle domestic violence calls was at the center of a press conference and officer training session held Thursday afternoon on the fourth floor of police headquarters at 1 Union Ave.

Lt. Renee Dominguez, who heads the department’s Family Services unit, described the department’s mandatory training on the matter thanks to the state’s new “Dominant Aggressor” law, or Public Act No. 18-5, which went into effect throughout Connecticut on Jan. 1, 2019.

Before Jan. 1, police officers throughout the state were required to arrest both parties during domestic violence calls with just four exceptions, including self defense and verbal, non-violent abuse. Starting this month, police officers are mandated to exercise a greater level of discretion in identifying “dominant aggressor,” defined as the person “who poses the most serious ongoing threat in a situation involving the suspected commission of a family violence crime.”

In the 30-plus classes that Dominguez, Sgt. Mary Helland, and Det. Cherelle Carr have taught so far this month, the instructors have told city officers that they now don’t have to arrest both the victim and the aggressor on a domestic violence call. Instead, they can and should identify the one who poses a more serious threat, based on such factors as history of family violence and relative degree of injury, and leave the victim out of handcuffs.

“We’re not revictimizing the victim,” Dominguez said at Thursday’s presser.

Carr agreed. “Victims are now putting trust back in the police,” she said. And no longer have to fear being sent to jail for calling the police about a domestic violence dispute.

Barbara Belluci, a program manager and family violence victim advocate with the Umbrella Center for Domestic Violence Services who has sat in on the department’s new training courses, praised Dominguez and her fellow instructors for the clarity and seriousness with which they have communicated the new laws

“There are a lot of victims out there reluctant to call the police,” she said, because they incorrectly believe that if they call the police, they will be arrested, too.

Carr said that the Geographic Area 23 state court system, which serves New Haven, East Haven, Branford, and a number of other surrounding towns, sees roughly 3,500 domestic violence arrests every year. Before the passage of this law, she said, a full 20 percent of those domestic violence cases were “dual arrests,” meaning both the victim and the aggressor were arrested, charged, and had to go to court.

Helland said that nationally an average 7 percent of domestic violence arrests are dual arrests. With this new law, she said, New Haven and police departments throughout the state expect to see Connecticut’s dual arrest numbers drop accordingly.

In her opening presentation to the roughly 20 officers waiting to be trained, Helland explained that, prior to 1987, Connecticut had no protocols on the books about how police officers should respond to domestic violence calls. The first law passed after that mandated dual arrests on domestic violence calls with no exceptions, and, Helland said, leading to many unnecessary arrests of victims. Not until 2004 did Connecticut add its first exception to the law, which ultimately grew to having four exceptions where officers did not have to arrest both parties in domestic violence disputes.

“Does anybody know the four exceptions?” she asked. Silence. “Anyone?”

The four exceptions before the passage of the new “Dominant Aggressors” law were self defense, verbal abuse, delinquent acts, and parental discipline not constituting abuse.

Three more exceptions have been added to the new law that went into effect in 2019. Those include:

• A “dominant aggressor” clause, whereby officers can determine who poses the more serious threat based on, to quote the law, “the need to protect victims of domestic violence, whether one person acted in defense of self or a third person, the relative degree of any injury, any threats creating fear of physical injury, and any history of family violence between such person, if such history can reasonably be obtained by the peace officer”;

• An “on-campus housing” clause, whereby college students who reside in the same on-campus housing, but are not in a dating relationship, shall not be subject to mandatory dual arrest;

• A “rooming house” clause whereby tenants who reside in the same “dwelling unit” as defined in section 47a-1 of state law, and who not in a dating relationship, shall not be subject to mandatory dual arrest.

“I’ve noticed quite a change in the arrests and in the analysis that the officers have been doing,” Helland said about officer domestic violence responses since Jan. 1. “We’ve noticed less dual arrests. We’ve noticed better investigations, a little more analysis going into it. Because once you go into it and you know you’re not mandated to make these dual arrests, you automatically change your investigation to be a little more specific so you can actually do the analysis properly.”

No New Training On Officer Involved Domestic Violence

In response to a question about the five city police officers recently arrested on their own domestic violence charges, Dominguez said that officer conduct while off the clock has not been a focus of this new domestic violence response training.

“In this training,” she said, “we haven’t trained anything specific to officer-involved domestics.” The department has focused on training officers on the new law, and that’s it.

But, she said, there are nevertheless benefits to officers discussing domestic violence more frequently, and thinking more critically about what constitutes domestic violence and what the consequences are.

“I think putting all the officers through this brings domestic violence to the forefront,” she said. “It just makes it a topic that is an issue to be discussed in an open forum with all the police officers.”

Click on the Facebook Live video below to watch the full press conference.


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posted by: SpecialK on January 25, 2019  9:04am

I don’t think some of the things implied in this article by the police or the author were actually true. They make it sound as if every domestic violence call resulted in dual arrests and this just isn’t correct. What the old law mandated was dual arrests if an officer had PROBABLE CAUSE that both parties broke the law. I have seen that many officers under the old law did take the lazy way out and arrest both parties way too often because they did not want to do a thorough investigation and these new laws should mitigate that.

posted by: thecove on January 25, 2019  9:35pm

This law was way overdue.  Since mandated arrests in DV cases began, there have been a countless amount of victims arrested.  In some cases because the officer couldn’t determine who the aggressor was and, sadly, because they didn’t take the time to properly investigate, took the easy way out, and left it up to the courts to decide.  Some were just concerned about the sheer liability involved.  And…in some cases, it was always incorrectly presumed that the male was the aggressor.  Dual arrests lacking probable cause was completely defeating the purpose of the mandated arrest, which was put into place after the Thurman case in Torrington and done solely to protect the victim.  The true victim must be determined for the system to work and for justice to be served.  Hats off to whoever drafted this bill.

posted by: narcan on January 27, 2019  3:33am

Good intentions aside (and I am happy to see I am not the first to point this out), it is dishonest to claim the law previously forced police to blindly make dual arrests or “arrest victims”.

The law previously mandated arrests in domestic violence situations where probable cause was found for a crime. The limited exceptions were affirmative defenses to being charged with a crime.

Certainly dual arrests will still happen, but hopefully less often now that we are giving officers more discretion.