BLOOMFIELD, NJ – This is the third in a series intended to provide education in support of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. When the police are called to the house for a domestic violence complaint, it can be an alarming experience. In New Jersey, law enforcement officials receive special training on handling situations that are tense and require quick assessments.
In Ocean Township, Detective Leanne Petracca serves as the local police department’s Domestic Violence Liaison to the county. In that role, Petracca meets quarterly with others devoted to protecting victims. The Ocean County Prosecutor’s office and a family court judge are among those who work with local agencies to review trends and discuss any new laws that are becoming effective.
Meanwhile, Petracca isn’t the only one trained on domestic violence calls within the local department. All officers receive annual updates on domestic violence as part of their core training. Among other things, they learn how to identify who qualifies for protection as a domestic violence victim.
“Domestic violence situations are inherently complicated,” shared Petracca. “That’s because relationships are complicated.”
In New Jersey, any of nineteen separate criminal offenses potentially constitutes a predicate act of domestic violence. Victims themselves often make the calls for help. However, sometimes, neighbors overhear loud screaming and contact the police department.
According to Petracca, there’s always a heightened caution when police officers are called for a domestic violence complaint. “Our first and foremost objective is to protect the victim,” Petracca emphasized. “We investigate the situation to see what, if any crimes have been committed.”
When responding officers are called to the scene, they first attempt to separate the parties to get their statements. Part of a domestic violence investigation includes factoring in the comparative extent of injuries. Additionally, any prior history of domestic violence proves essential to the investigation, as does evidence at the scene.
Mandatory arrests for domestic violence situations are applicable for assault, as well as any violation of existing restraining orders. “If we have probable cause to believe a weapon was used in the act of domestic violence, we would also make an arrest,” said Petracca.
Responding officers generally handle domestic violence complaints on their own. However, in matters that result in serious bodily injury or death, detectives are called to the scene. Obviously, arrests are in order for both types of calls.
In cases where an arrest is not mandatory, the police will generally encourage one of the parties to leave, even if it’s on a temporary basis. Since situations don’t typically resolve on their own, the cooling-off period sometimes helps. Otherwise, disputes escalate, and the authorities are asked to return. An arrest could then become mandatory.
Police officers provide information to victims concerning the availability of temporary restraining orders (TROs) as a remedy to the immediate threat. If the act happens during daytime hours, victims are instructed to go to the Ocean County Family Court. During non-business hours, law enforcement authorities will take steps to contact the local judge.
“There has to be a sense of urgency for a municipal court to become involved,” Petracca shared. “However, it’s our job to help the victim get the protection they need.”
Admittedly, not all victims seek out orders of protection. As Petracca sees it, “domestic violence is all about manipulation and control.” In her experience, abusers typically manipulate and charm their victims until they become dependent on them. It’s then that the abusive tendencies surface.
“Some people are afraid that they’ll suffer financially if they leave their abuser,” said Petracca. “There are hundreds of reasons that people will stay with their abusers. As police officers, we know these situations don’t get better by themselves without some kind of intervention.”
Meanwhile, that’s not to say that false claims of domestic violence don’t exist. “DV complaints can be manipulated,” admitted Petracca.
Next week, the final part of this series on domestic violence concludes with information on restraining orders and available resources for victims.
Stephanie A. Faughnan is a local journalist and Director of Writefully Inspired, a professional writing and resume service. Feel free to contact her at email@example.com.