The Days After

Some say the best place to start addressing domestic violence is with law enforcement. Police officers are the first responders and, as such, are pivotal in determining who gets help and who gets hurt.

When Ralph Peters was acting chief of Lafayette City Police more than three years ago, he said he made it a priority to train officers in dealing with domestic violence.

"One of the things I really wish I would have done is start a domestic violence unit that handled all the domestic violence cases," he said, but a shortage of officers always prevented that from happening.

It still does.

Detective Michael Brown, who at one point worked as an investigator on domestic violence cases as part of a grant Peters had applied for, said he, too, would like to see a unit formed.

"I think we need more officers - a lot more officers than what we're currently budgeted for," Brown said.

Currently, there are no known plans to implement a domestic violence unit in the Lafayette Police Department.

The Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office doesn't have a domestic violence unit, but it has taken steps in that direction with the creation of the Violence Against Women Task Force, the hiring of a victims abuse counselor, and the recent hiring of an investigator who works solely on violations of protective orders.

Lt. Craig Stansbury, spokesman for the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office, said Sheriff Mike Neustrom recognizes the problem and is working to address it.

"We're still looking to try to find ways to get better and more efficient in helping victims of domestic violence," Stansbury said. "It's a definite problem."

Another issue is training.

A lack of proper training accounts for dual arrests, which is when officers arrest both parties in a dispute because they can't determine who is the primary aggressor.

Peters said that creates problems.

"Dual arrests are not a solution to domestic violence. What ends up happening, the true victim will never, ever call police again," he said.

Sachida Raman, an attorney for the Acadiana Legal Service Corp., which provides free and reduced-cost legal services to victims of domestic violence, said he's attended and taught training sessions and has heard police officers voice the complaint that they are tired of seeing victims who want to drop the charges.

He said he asked the officers this question: When they arrive on the scene of a homicide or a bank robbery, do they turn around and leave just because someone says they don't want to press charges?

"Why, then, do you distinguish and make this a family problem?" he asked the officers. "It's a criminal violation. If you get that, you are home free. It's a violation. You investigate it the same way. Look for evidence, look who needs to be arrested. Step in."

"The message that needs to reverberate in our community is that domestic (violence) will not be tolerated because it is a crime. There must be a zero tolerance for it; otherwise, it will continue to be a vicious cycle making our task more difficult," Raman said.