Law aims to reduce dual arrests in domestic dispute cases
NORWALK — Police, lawmakers and domestic violence advocates are hoping a new law that takes effect Jan. 1 will greatly reduce the number of “dual arrests” in domestic violence incidents.
Connecticut had been ranked worst nationwide in the arrest of both parties after incidents, advocates said, in effect revictimizing those who suffered abuse.
The new law requires police to identify a primary aggressor in a domesticviolence incident. Advocates and lawmakers said dual arrests are damaging for victims who call on law enforcement for help in an abusive situation but are instead arrested as a result.
That means victims might avoid calling police again in the future, and children who witness the violence might see the parent they identified as the victim being punished.
“It’s a huge waste of resources,” Pamela Davis, director of legal services at the Domestic Violence Crisis Center said of dual arrests. “It punishes the victim for calling law enforcement and seeking help even when the case is later nolle’d.”
Sometimes after a dual arrest, a victim is forced to pay attorney’s fees and seek child care before attending court hearings, Davis said. If a victim is considered an aggressor by police, the DVCC is unable to offer services.
Connecticut has the high- est percentage of dual arrests in comparison to other states, according to Kevin Shippy, executive director of the Domestic Violence Crisis Center. Data compiled by ProPublica supports his claim and suggests — nationally, dual arrests take place in 2 percent of all intimate partner violence arrests. In Connecticut, that number rises to 18 percent.
Most recent data from the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence shows 87 of 106 law enforcement agencies in the state have a dual arrest rate double or more than double the national average of 7.3 percent.
“The biggest problem with the current law is that it’s a mandatory arrest law so if the police go into the scene or home and they’re both pointing fingers at each other, the police officer … has to arrest both parties,” Davis said. In other words, if the officer suspects both parties are engaged in violent behavior, he or she must arrest both people.
Before 1986, Connecticut police often responded to domestic violence calls with the goal of keeping the peace rather than investigating potential crimes, according to ProPublica.
But that changed in 1983, when a Torrington woman was stabbed 13 times by her abuser.
She lived to successfully sue the city and lawmakers passed a family violence law that created domestic violence units in courts and required judges to hold hearings within 24 hours of a domestic violence incident, according to ProPublica. Police were retrained in how to handle domestic violence incidents and were required to make arrests if they found probable cause.
Arrests skyrocketed and police were arresting both parties in many cases, instead of just the primary aggressor, according to ProPublica.
State Rep. Fred Wilms, R-Norwalk, was one of the bill’s sponsors. He said the Rep. Craig Fishbein, RWallingford, was the only dissenting voter in the House, and that the Senate passed the measure unanimously.
“I don’t want people to be arrested who shouldn’t be arrested,” Wilms said of his sponsorship of the legislation.
The new law has been well-received by police, according to Sgt. David Orr, investigative supervisor for the special victim’s unit at the Norwalk Police Department.
“There will still be dual arrest situations, but this law is designed to more clearly identify victims and provide resources and not subject them to an arrest,” he said.
Two weeks ago, Orr attended training held by the Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Patrice Palumbo, who briefed officers on the new law and distributed a PowerPoint presentation that Orr uses to train parole officers and supervisors at the Norwalk Police Department.
“We are instructed to try to identify the primary aggressor in the violent confrontation and only arrest that person even if the non-dominant-involved party has caused injury to a person or property,” he said. “Any seasoned patrolman will tell you in most domestic violence cases, there is an identifiable victim. If an investigation and interviews yield one person is more fearful than the other, they will be noted as the victim, not the dominant-aggres- sor,” he said.
Come Jan. 1, whoever is in the most fear will be considered the non-dominant involved party, he said.
While the measure requires that police determine the primary aggressor, it doesn’t restrict them arresting both parties.
“There’s a fair amount of data out there and studies that show having a dominant primary aggressor statute in place reduces the number of dual arrests, but there’s a lot of data and reports and studies that show it doesn’t affect it as much as intended,” Davis said. “It remains to be seen whether or not this new language will enable the police officer to really better assess and to not make that arrest where there’s an untrue dual.”
Wilms said lawmakers could revisit the measure in the future and amend it if it isn’t working.
“But for right now we’re hopeful this will lead to better outcomes,” he said.