Family Law

The Role of Law Enforcement in Domestic Violence Cases: Challenges and Best Practices

Police officers are often the first people to respond to domestic violence calls. This role can be a challenging one, because officers must respond to calls that may not involve a physical altercation, but can still be emotionally and physically dangerous for both parties involved.

Officers also are required by statute to provide victims with information about their rights, remedies and services available in the community. This can be an important source of information and support to victims who are struggling to survive the abuse that they are experiencing.

While the laws that officers must follow to respond to these calls are well intentioned, they can also create a stifling environment for survivors and lead to unintended consequences such as arrests of victims who may not want to be arrested or who have a financial hardship.

Research has shown that officers often use stereotypic beliefs about battered women and categories of people based on social class, mental illness, race, gender and other salient factors to guide their decisions when making arrests in domestic violence cases (Stalans and Finn 1995, 2000). For example, experienced male officers who are basically supportive of domestic-dominating relationships infer that a higher percentage of cases involve wives acting in self-defense than do experienced female officers.

These assumptions can make a difficult situation even more tense for officers, who are often trying to balance their obligation to protect the public with their own personal safety. Having to respond to calls that may not be entirely accurate, relying on their own limited skillset or dealing with the complexities of navigating the criminal justice system are all barriers to effective resolution and contribute to their feelings of ambivalence about responding to domestic violence.

A critical element of effective law enforcement response to sexual assault and domestic violence is minimizing or eliminating bias, which can undermine the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators and prevent justice in these cases. Whether a bias is based on stereotypes or not, LEAs need to implement policies, practices and training that help them ensure that their response does not negatively impact the safety of victims or deter them from calling law enforcement.

During this study, eight participants were interviewed about their experiences as a domestic violence responder. They were asked about the challenges they faced in responding to these calls and what improvements would improve their overall effectiveness. They raised several suggestions for improving responses, including bolstering the availability of services that meet the needs of victims and families; coordinating with civilian assistance; and enhancing the availability of skilled resources outside of law enforcement.

All of these recommendations can improve officers’ experience in responding to domestic violence calls and reduce role overload. Moreover, bolstering the ability of officers to work more effectively with other law enforcement agencies, such as mental health agencies and child welfare authorities, will also be beneficial in reducing situational ambiguity.

Getting the a Miami divorce lawyer for you can be key in navigating the process and finding the best outcome possible for you and your family. An experienced divorce lawyer in Miami who handles domestic violence cases will have the resources and expertise needed to ensure you are protected and treated with fairness during and after the divorce process.