Last updated May 2010
Duties of Police Officers
Legislation should state that police and other law enforcement officials are obligated to pursue all cases of domestic violence, regardless of the level or form of violence. See: Report of the Intergovernmental Expert Group Meeting to review and update the Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence against Women in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, Bangkok, 23-25 March 2009, III 15 (b).
Legislation should require the police to give domestic violence calls the same priority as other calls involving violence. See: law of Georgia. For information on assigning priority levels to domestic violence calls, see: The St. Paul Blueprint for Safety, p. 21.
Legislation should require the police to perform certain duties as part of the investigative process in domestic violence calls, including interviewing parties separately, recording the complaint, filing a report, and advising the complainant/survivor of her rights. For example, the law of Brazil mandates a police protocol which includes a provision requiring police to determine the existence of prior complaints of violence against the aggressor:
Legislators should ensure that specialized police units are created for the investigation and prosecution of domestic violence cases. These units should be women-only units so that complainant/survivors are more likely to seek assistance. See Spain’s law; and the Handbook on Effective police responses to violence against women (2010) p. 39.
The UN Model Framework provides a detailed list of police duties within the context of complainant/survivor rights (III A) and a list of minimum requirements for a police report in paragraph 23.
The US Model Code recommends important provisions for the duties of a police officer, including confiscating any weapon involved, assisting the complainant in removing personal effects, and “taking the action necessary to provide for the safety of the victim and any family or household member.” See: Family Violence: A Model State Code, Sec 204.See also: Vision, Innovation and Professionalism in Policing Violence Against Women and Children (2003), a Council of Europe training book for police.
CASE STUDY: The Duluth Pocket Card, a laminated pocket card which was developed by police in Duluth, Minnesota, with protocol to document domestic violence incidents:
Legislation should require the police to inform the complainant/survivor of her rights and options under the law. For example, the law of India requires a police officer to inform the victim of important rights:
See: Domestic Violence Legislation and its Implementation: An Analysis for ASEAN Countries Based on International Standards and Good Practices, UNIFEM, June 2009, which states that “Information on rights empowers complainants in negotiating settlements and also allows them to make informed decisions on the legal options that they may want to pursue.” page 22
See: Council of Europe, The Protection of Women against Violence Recommendation Rec(2002)5 #29.
Lethality or risk assessments
Legislation should mandate that police investigate the level of risk to domestic violence victims in each case of domestic violence. For additional risk assessment factors, see: Assessing Risk Factors for Intimate Partner Homicide (2003). Other agencies of the criminal justice system, including prosecutors and judges, should also assess the level of risk to victims. See section on Lethality and risk assessments and Duties of prosecutors and Duties of judiciary.
Mediation or assisted alternative dispute resolution
Legislation should specifically preclude police from offering mediation or assisted alternative dispute resolution services to parties. Police should not attempt to improve relations in the family by offering these services or by mediating a dispute. See: UN Handbook 3.9.1. See section under Duties of judiciary on Mediation or assisted alternative dispute resolution.
Determining the predominant aggressoR
Legislation should require the police to evaluate each claim of violence separately in situations where both parties claim violence. The police must look beyond the visual evidence and consider the context of the act of violence by identifying controlling behavior in the predominant aggressor and fear in the victim.
Police must be able to recognize the tactics of power and control. They must consider such issues as: the severity of injuries inflicted by both parties, the difference in size and weight of the parties, the demeanor of the parties, any prior complaints of violence, claims of self-defense and the likelihood of further injury to a party.
The determination of the predominant aggressor, and the reasons for that determination, must be included in the police report. Otherwise, offenders will successfully manipulate the system and victims will not be protected. As a result, victims may not contact police the next time violence occurs. (See the Duluth Pocket Card Case Study, above.)
If the predominant aggressor is misidentified, there could be important legal consequences for the victim, such as the denial of custody of children, of housing rights and of immigration rights. Additionally, without being identified as a victim, a person would not be eligible for shelter or other forms of aid mandated by statute.
The Criminal Domestic Violence law of South Carolina, USA, includes the following provisions on determining the primary aggressor:
See: Family Violence: A Model State Code Sec 205 (B); and Determining the Predominant Aggressor, StopVAW, The Advocates for Human Rights.
Probable cause standard of arrest
Drafters should consider a probable cause standard of arrest, which allows police to arrest and detain an offender if they determine that there is probable cause that a crime has occurred even if they did not witness the offence. See: Minnesota 518B.01 subdv. 14(d)(2)(e) and law of South Carolina, Sec. 16-25-70 (A). See: Law Enforcement Reform Efforts, StopVAW, The Advocates for Human Rights.
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