Shattered Lives

On April 26, 1991 two officers with the Bay City Police Department responded to a domestic disturbance. Upon arriving to the scene, both officers noticed a man with a rifle, drew their service weapons and ordered him to stop. Without warning a second man shot and killed both officers.

In September of this year, the State of Michigan will implement a new curriculum on domestic violence for police officers throughout the state to help prevent similar tragic situations.

The changes were inspired from inequities in treatment of domestic violence victims uncovered by the Civil Rights Task Force in 1990, said Hermina Kramp, chairperson of the Domestic Violence Law Enforcement Task Force.

“Prior to this there was no training of how to interact with victims or assailants of domestic violence or how to gather information,” Kramp said.

Many of the changes in the curriculum reflect safety measures to protect officers from increasing violence aimed at them.

Nationwide in 1992, 55 police officers were killed in the line of duty, with 11 deaths resulting from responding to a disturbance.

Michigan figures for 1991, provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), show that six law enforcement officers were feloniously killed – two resulting from a domestic violence situation.

A four-hour course, titled “Police Response to Domestic Violence,” will place emphasis on conducting an investigation to establish probable cause for arrest.

This new approach is vastly different from earlier teachings of mediation, said Sgt. Phil Schertzing, who works for the Michigan Department of State Police in Lansing.

“Oftentimes we’re caught in the middle. We’re a referee,” said Lt. Tillman Crutchfield, of the Cheboygan Michigan State Police post. “The officer has to be on the defensive with both parties involved.”

Police officers from across the state, along with people working in domestic violence, came together as the Michigan Law Enforcement Officers Training Council to update the curriculum over the past couple years. A federal grant awarded two years ago provided funds to further the research needed for the program, Kramp said.

Although only the four-hour course is mandated, the training council is recommending 14 hours of training, including a two-hour course on domestic violence law and eight hours on response.

The proposed training objectives, response policy and mandated hours are expected to be approved in June, Kramp said. Instructors for the training will happen in July and August with teaching of the courses starting in the fall.

The beginning of the class will examine current domestic assault laws and the enforcement of court orders, according to information provided by the state police.

The training module is broken into three parts: the approach to the scene of domestic violence, conducting an investigation and securing the scene.

While approaching the scene of a domestic violence dispute, the course teaches to evaluate the available information to determine potential dangers in the existing situation, which includes information from dispatch, witnesses or other officers.

Officers are taught to approach the site cautiously and to use safety precautions. These include parking a short distance away, waiting for backup assistance before entering the site, exchanging information with assisting officers, having each officer use a separate approach, not standing in front of a door or window and looking for some means of escape.

“One of the things we always try to do is protect the officer,” Crutchfield said. “We don’t send one officer to a family dispute. We’ll send two cars and there will always be backup either there or en route.

“Tempers are raised and fuses are short and people don’t tend to act rationally when they are upset,” Crutchfield said. “Our goal is that no one gets hurt, that the dispute is solved without any physical injuries.”

After arriving to the scene, officers listen for unusual conditions, which include loud arguments, fresh damage to the residence, alcohol use, other people involved or weapons. If the situation warrants additional strength, officers are taught to call for assistance.

While conducting the investigation, officers will talk to both parties as much as possible if entry is denied. Officers are taught to enter the site cautiously, introducing themselves and looking for weapons, then will attempt to separate the parties.

Maintaining visual contact with the officers is important for safety measures. An officer is responsible for evaluating the legitimacy of any legal documents presented, such as a restraining order or custody order.

While securing the scene, the course instructs officers to arrest assailants for any felony criminal offense that has taken place with probable cause or under the domestic assault law, with probable cause to believe a misdemeanor assault took place.

Officers then advise the victim of the phone number for a shelter or other community services.

Bringing it all Together

In an effort to ensure Cheboygan County police agencies all follow the same procedures, the prosecutor’s office has developed a coordinated response to domestic violence.

With Cheboygan County Prosecutor Joe Kwiatkowski acting as the hub for the new program, several components involved with domestic violence complaints will fall together as a county-wide standard procedure.

Areas included in the coordinated response are the courts, hospitals, police, women’s resource shelters, victim advocates and the general public.

Kwiatkowski has spent the past few months studying other domestic violence policies across the state before developing this new approach.

“The bottom line is that front-line intervention by police is only effective with a coordinated backup response at the scene,” he said.

There are five police agencies affected by this policy: the Cheboygan County Sheriff Department, Michigan State Police, City of Cheboygan, Mackinaw City and Tuscarora Township police departments.

The new policy will ensure all police officers in Cheboygan County provide the required victim’s rights information at the scene of a domestic dispute and follow the same investigation procedures, Kwiatkowski said.

The county also is stressing a no-drop policy on domestic abuse cases. Instead of asking a woman if she would like her to press charges against the batterer, the prosecutor does it for her.

“We’re not going to give the victim an option,” Kwiatkowski said. “There’s no other crime that a victim is responsible for prosecution. Sometimes if it’s up to them, the batterer will put pressure on the victim to drop charges. This way she’ll be able to say, “It’s out of my hands.”

Once the prosecutor presses charges, the only way they can be dropped is if the alleged victim recants and says she lied or if there is a lack of evidence.

Kwiatkowski intends to implement the coordinated response procedure throughout this year. He has already held several in-services on the subject and parts of the program are currently in effect, such as the no-drop policy.

“The response to this crime has to be the same in every case,” Kwiatkowski said. “We want to tell the victims that they will be treated in the same fashion whether they are assaulted on the streets or in their home.”