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Advocates Push For Primary Aggressor Law

by | Feb 14, 2018 5:29am () Comments | Log in to Facebook to Post a Comment | Share

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HARTFORD, CT — Connecticut police officers arrest both parties involved in a domestic violence incident 20 percent of the time. According to a new report, that’s more than double the national average.

A report from the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence found that 87 of 106 law enforcement entities have a dual arrest rate that is more than double national benchmark.

Karen Jarmoc, executive director of CCADV, said 20 percent is more than twice the national average of 7.3 percent.

But she said it’s not law enforcement’s fault — they’re just doing what they’ve been asked by the law.

The organization and the report attribute the higher-than-average dual arrest rates to a law that passed in 1986 and went into effect in 1987.

The law essentially requires police to make an arrest in cases of domestic violence if they find sufficient evidence that an incident occurred. They are unable to make a judgment call about which party was the aggressor in the situation and which one was the victim.

Police have to arrest the person or persons believed to have committed the violence and charge them with the applicable crime. They are required to do this regardless of whether the victim wished to press charges.

The law currently on the books removes police discretion and requires arrests in all cases of probable cause.

The report released Tuesday found that between 2014 and 2016, 71 percent of the 54,129 domestic violence cases handled by state courts involved intimate partners. Of those, 14,953, or 27.6 percent, were dual arrests. The number for the state police is a little lower. During that same time period there were 39,854 intimate partner cases and 7,193, or 18 percent, were dual arrests.

Jarmoc said she’s received a commitment from the co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee to raise a bill this year that would adopt “primary aggressor” language.

The language would require officers to attempt to identify the “primary aggressor” when considering the arrest of both parties in a domestic violence situation.

The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association was not available for comment Tuesday.

In 2004, the legislature passed a bill that instructed officers to consider the degree of injuries, any history of family violence, and whether one of the parties was acting in self-defense.

At that time the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association opposed stronger legislation regarding dual arrests. 

“Domestic is already complex and volatile,” then-Police Chiefs Anthony Salvatore and James Strillacci told the Judiciary Committee. “Modifying the probable cause standard in these particular cases is going to add confusion. It may actually dissuade the officer from making an arrest at all.”

Jarmoc said she can’t imagine there would be any opposition to the legislation.

“It’s hard to understand how anyone could be on the other side of this,” she said.

However, she said they want to work with all stakeholders to come up with language that works because there’s a real impact on the victims.

Last year, ProPublica shined a spotlight on the high number of dual arrests in Connecticut with the story of a Torrington woman who fought off her husband, scooped up her 11-week-old baby, and headed to the police station.

According to the story, Sanna Dilawar “told the police everything that had happened, including that she fought back. She liked the officer who took her statement, she said, because it felt like he believed her. The officer took photos: a bleeding ear; a swollen jaw; broken glasses.

Then the officer told Dilawar she was under arrest, along with her husband.”

Jarmoc said when that happens the victim loses trust in the criminal justice system and advocates who work for the state’s 18 domestic violence service agencies wonder whether they should advise their clients to report abuse to police.

“This distrust and hesitancy to call police greatly diminishes the victim’s future safety,” the report states.

At least 27 states have laws with “predominant aggressor language.”

A recent 2016 academic article by David Hirschel, a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, indicates that primary aggressor laws do in fact reduce dual arrests, especially when coupled with training to assist police in determining the culpable party.

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