Police learning to document domestic violence cases

Police learning to document domestic violence cases

February 18th, 2012 by Todd South in News

Angelica Lancaster, left, and Babs Ragdale, center, both of whom work within the court system, listen as Tiffany Vandergriff }, right, with the Partnership for Families and Children, asks a question of a survivor of sexual abuse who shared her story. Members of the law enforcement community attended training sessions centered on dealing with domestic abuse. The training was sponsored by the Partnership for Families and Children. The attendees learned about documenting abuse and dealing with the effects of domestic abuse.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.

Local police officers learned this week how to confront the complex nature of domestic violence reports -- and build cases to stop the crime.

As part of a weeklong training session at the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, law enforcement officers from the sheriff's office, Chattanooga Police Department and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga learned how to identify signs of domestic violence and how to document incidents to build prosecutable cases.

Case managers and survivors of domestic violence from the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults shared the victim's view during the training.

"[Trainers] talk about the dynamics of domestic violence and try to help [officers] understand why do [victims] return? Why does it take five to eight times for [victims] to finally leave them?" said Carmen Hutson, assistant director of the Crisis Resource Center of the Partnership.

During a short question-and-answer session, officers shared frustrating stories of responding to 911 calls, making an arrest with probable cause on seemingly obvious abuse, only to watch weeks later as both the accused and the victim walk into court hand-in-hand and drop the case.

UTC police Cpl. Jason Maucere said he sometimes will find students who've had protective orders placed against an abusive boyfriend or girlfriend, yet they're still spending time together, in violation of the order.

Hamilton County Sheriff's Lt. Chris Chambers heads the department's domestic violence and sexual assault training while also overseeing the criminal investigation division. Since most domestic violence cases are classified as misdemeanor assaults, patrol officers handle the investigation, said Chambers, who worked on the federally funded domestic violence task force formed in 1997, which ran for about four years.

"What I'm hammering into them is: To do a thorough investigation, you have to look at every angle," he said. "What's the history, are there previous domestics? What's the severity of the injury?"

Those factors add up to form a case that prosecutors can charge and pursue, he said

And even if the victim drops the case the first time around, there's a history, it's documented and, if she's abused again, there is a chance to build on the past reports, Chambers said.

Gov. Bill Haslam recently has proposed mandatory jail time on second and subsequent offenses for domestic violence convictions. His representatives say the measure would help deter future abuse.

Hutson and others with the Partnership say that, if convicted abusers are forced to serve time, it can give victims a chance to restart their lives and remove themselves from a harmful situation.

The law also could increase trust between police, courts and victims. Often with little penalties available, Hutson said, victims can be reluctant to follow through on charges if they know the abuser will be freed soon and return to threaten or harm them.