As my website page on Massachusetts Domestic Violence Charges makes clear, this is one type of crime that police departments across Massachusetts issue pretty clear department policies on: When patrol officers respond to a call for a “domestic,” (as these dispatch calls are known in law enforcement circles,) someone’s going to get arrested. This is nearly a foregone conclusion even before the officers arrive at the location; even before they’ve had a chance to assess the situation, on scene.
Why? The reason is part historical – much of which justifies this hard-line approach, and part of the reason is political – much of which doesn’t justify the hard-line approach. Very briefly: Historically, 25+ years ago, “domestic violence” charges were often viewed by police officers and their departments as being merely fights between a couple, which almost every couple can sometimes have. Unless responding officers found someone that was clearly physically harmed or terrified for his (usually her) safety, they would commonly separate the couple, calm both parties down, and urge them to resolve their argument so that no one got in trouble. In the instances when someone was arrested, unless there were serious injuries involved, prosecutors and judges also treated the matter lightly, letting the defendant pretty much off the hook with a relatively quick and easy judicial disposition.
The problem with this soft-line approach was obvious: Eventually, a victim that might have been shoved or hit today, was tragically going to be harmed much worse by the abusive spouse or partner that was “let off the hook,” later on. Perhaps even killed. And that’s exactly what happened – on a much wider scale than some people might have guessed.
So the entire law enforcement, prosecutorial and judicial approach in dealing with Massachusetts domestic violence arrests changed – to one of zero tolerance. On a macro level, this can be seen as a wise, “better to be safe than sorry” approach. On a micro level, it can turn out to be something very different: As a Wrentham, Massachusetts domestic violence lawyer, I’ve seen many cases where the arrest involved is downright shameful: Where little reason existed to arrest the defendant, yet arrested they were. The examples of police overkill that I’ve seen as a Massachusetts domestic violence lawyer, are sometimes stunning. Yet I have many professional friends who are police officers, and the first thing they’d tell me in response is to this observation is, “Arrests involving a domestic call are pretty much policy; We’re just doing our jobs.” That’s fair enough.
But what’s not fair enough is police departments saying one thing on this subject, and doing quite another. I’ll talk about that in a day or so from now, in my next post.