Domestic Violence & 1st Responders

The challenges, frustrations, and stressors encountered with domestic violence can be constant and compelling.

Domestic Violence is often referred to as the Revolving Door Syndrome within the criminal justice system, as well as the fire/emergency medical services, police officers, prosecutors, victim specialists, judges, firefighters, and medics routinely encountering similar issues that intersect their professional roles. From newcomers to the tenured and highly experienced, the challenges, frustrations, and stressors they encounter with domestic violence can be constant and compelling.

For firefighters and medics, who arrive on the scene of a domestic, they are frequently confronted with a volatile situation in which there may be one or more injured parties with emotions running high. Captain Roberto Hernandez of the Washington D.C. Fire/EMS Department recalls a time when he responded to a domestic call and, upon his arrival, a chair came flying out of a dwelling door. A woman had thrown the chair at her husband. When the ambulance responded, both parties involved in this domestic turned on the ambulance crew and threw the chair at them almost injuring Capt. Hernandez's partner. "We have no idea what we're going to find behind that door," says Hernandez.

Similarly, Captain Edward Blunt, a 28-year veteran of the Arlington County Virginia Fire/EMS Department, has been in situations where he felt he was in danger and backed out and waited for police to arrive. In one instance, he arrived on a domestic in which a lady answered the door who was visibly bloodied and battered. Her husband, who was a big man, walked out with a baseball bat in hand.

Battalion Chief Regil Aster, of the Fairfax County Virginia Fire/EMS Department also finds the issue of safety a challenge. "Things can go bad rather quickly. The wife or husband can turn. A lot of times we have to wait off scene before police arrive and clear the scene," says Aster. He also acknowledges the frustration of returning to the same home repeatedly.

Safety is paramount for emergency responders. "I would be looking for police to take the lead role in the domestic and to protect the firefighters and medics at the scene so they don't get hurt," says Edward Tomaszewski, a retired New York City firefighter.

Detective Robin Bennett of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department relates that one of the biggest frustrations police officers encounter is the fact that victims frequently minimize what occurred. She admits defendants will sweet talk the victim back in to the situation. Moreover, victims may not appear in court and, consequently, the case is not prosecuted. Equally frustrating, she notes, is the dismissal rate.

Detective Harry Lee of the Los Angeles Police Department, who regularly handles domestic violence cases, says it is frustrating trying to locate a victim to confirm the incident after it has occurred and, when he does, she tells him she lied. He cites an example where he spent 30 days on case in which the victim said she lied because she was drunk. She accused the police officers as well as the detectives of lying. The District Attorney placed the victim on the stand; she relayed this to the judge and, subsequently, the charges were dropped.

Detective Lee admits it is also frustrating trying to talk to children who may have been present during the incident. In addition, he acknowledges the time spent in court is stressful particularly when he may have been in court all day waiting on a case to be called only to have it dismissed. Seeing the same victims repeatedly return with domestic violence problems is also frustrating. Despite these factors, he maintains a healthy perspective. "If you help out one family, it's worth it. You get very frustrated but realize we did our best," says Detective Lee.

Corporal Anthony Chuckerel, of the Montgomery County Maryland Police Department, concurs that responding to the same address more than once is frustrating. He acknowledges that uncooperative parties in a criminal investigation and victims who may flip over to the abuser side are also problematic.

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