Written by Don Ratzlaff Wednesday, 23 January 2008 08:49
The call can come in at any time of the day or night: a report or suspicion of domestic violence occurring in a Hillsboro home.
Lately those calls have been coming in more frequently than normal, according to Police Chief Dan Kinning.
“The past couple of months, we’re going through a spurt—and, hopefully, that’s all it is,” Kinning said.
He estimates the department has been responding to an average of four or five domestic-disturbance calls a week, which he calls “unusual for us.”
“I think we’re pretty much typical as any town,” Kinning said. “We have our fair share (of domestic disturbance), definitely. It comes and goes in spurts.
“In some respects, it’s seasonal. In wintertime, people get cabin fever, and in the summertime the temperature makes things more volatile. We may hit a spurt where we may go a month or two without any.”
Potential for danger
Every domestic-disturbance call carries risk—not only for the people involved in the incident, but also for the officers who respond to them.
An FBI report on law enforcement officers assaulted and killed confirms that no assignment poses more uncertainty and danger to an officer than a domestic-disturbance call. In 2005, 30 percent of assaults on officers occurred on those types of calls.
Kinning and his officers know the danger firsthand.
“We’ve experienced everything from just a disagreement between couples, and one of the worst scenarios was a standoff with an armed person here in Hillsboro,” he said. “We were between him and the person he wanted to kill.
“I’ve also had two calls where we’ve had standoffs with people with large knives,” he said.
“A lot of the times when we respond, there’s alcohol or drugs involved. A lot of times the offender is unstable as it is, and that just makes him that much more dangerous.”
That said, about half of disturbance calls turn out to be routine verbal disagreements, with no physical violence. Because they can never be sure, officers take precautions whenever they respond.
“We don’t normally go lights and siren unless it’s really violent.” Kinning said. “If it is (violent), we’ll wait for backup unless we feel there’s an immediate need for us in the house. Then you assess the situation, approach the house and see what you can see and what you can hear.
“We check with the dispatcher to see if they’ve got him on the phone,” he added. “Thirty to 40 percent of the time, the offender will rip the phone off the wall.
“And there are times when the female will dial 9-1-1 and just hang up, hoping we’ll show up. That’s not really a good idea. But if they get on the phone, they usually stay on the phone.”
Assessing the situation isn’t always easy.
“When we arrive on scene we do out best to determine who the main offender is because we always get the he-said/she-said thing,” Kinning said. “So we start looking for marks and bruises and those kinds of things.”
If the officers find visible evidence that an incident has turned physical, arrests will be made.
“Kansas now has a mandatory arrest law,” Kinning said. “If we arrive and we see evidence of physical abuse, then we’re obligated to make an arrest.”
Even if the perpetrator is no longer on site.
“We get delayed calls, and the suspect has already fled the area,” Kinning said. “A lot of times, it’s an ex-husband or ex-boyfriend coming in. There’s an arrest made, but it’s usually down the line.”
Evidence of violence is not limited to bodily injury. Broken furniture and other property damage is also sufficient cause for arrest.
“If there are threats and we can ascertain that those threats really happened, we’ll make an arrest on those too,” Kinning said.
The majority of calls the local department receives involve repeat offenders.
“It normally starts with verbal complaints and slowly escalates,” Kinning said of the norm.
When the perpetrator is a repeater, the victim usually is, too. Sometimes the victim contributes to the cycle.
“In so many cases—probably more than less—the women will drop the charges,” he said. “They’ll go bond the other person out.
“We’ve had people who have gone through six or seven arrests, and the (victim) will still bond them out and drop charges. (The court) finally limited PFAs (protection-from-abuse orders) to two or three a year.”
Why don’t victims leave the perpetrator?
“The women are afraid of losing their security, they’re afraid of physical harm, they do it ‘for the children’—whatever the excuse is, they do it,” he said.
A need for action
The threat of going to jail is an effective detererent for some perpetrators, but the cycle of violence within a home is rarely broken when the victim does not take action.
“My experience is that the man who is abusive is not going to change,” Kinning said. “A lot of women think they’re going to change him, but my experience is they do not change. Generally, they get worse.
“There are exceptions,” he added. “But most (perpetrators) buy them flowers on Monday and then beat them again on Saturday night.”
The vast majority of victims —85 to 90 percent—are women, according to Kinning.
“There are exceptions, and I have arrested several females over the years,” he said. “Before the mandatory law came out, we never arrested a female. Even if she was an offender, we removed the man from the scene until things calmed down.”
Most domestic disturbance calls in Hillsboro involve low-income households, but domestic violence is not limited to any particular economic strata.
“We know it’s widespread, but the majority of calls tend to come from lower-income situations,” Kinning said. “I think that’s because the upper class sees it as a stigma and they don’t report it much.
“That doesn’t mean it’s not happening. They just don’t want anybody to know.
Assistance for victims
With every intervention, Kinning and his officers provide victims with a packet of information that includes domestic-violence hot-line numbers, information about safe houses, and the parameters of protection-from-abuse court orders.
“We encourage protection-from-abuse orders,” Kinning said. “It’s a restraining order, basically. Violating that restraining order is a violation of the law, so we can arrest them for that. If they harass a person, it’s considered trespass or assault.”
Kinning said he and his officers have removed children from a home because of violence in the house, or because violence persists over time.
“Generally, if it’s a violent household and the female is not doing anything about it—or if it’s one of those things where she keeps dropping the charges—the county attorney will look at removing the children,” he said.
Although efforts to persuade women victims to seek assistance are frequently unsuccessful, Kinnng said women need to know they can end the cycle. He knows of cases where it’s happened.
“A certain percentage of women follow through, take action and learn they can take care of themselves,” he said. “A lot of them fear they can’t do it on their own—and then they find out that they can.
“For victims, there’s help out there. There are safe houses, advocates—just a plethora of things now to help women get out of their situations. But they need to be ready to do that.”
When in doubt, call police about disturbances
You hear arguing between a man and a woman in the house next door, or as you walk by it. Should you report the incident to police?
“Every family has its excuses and couples argue,” Hillsboro Police Chief Dan Kinning said. “But there are times when neighbors can hear certain things going on that lead them to believe there might be some violence inside.
“Any time you hear somebody screaming for help, or sounds of someone being struck, or things inside (the house) crashing—by all means call,” he said. “In typical arguments there are loud voices, but you don’t hear these other things.”
But should you call if you don’t hear those obvious sounds of violent behavior?
“Go ahead and report it,” Kinning said. “If nothing else, you can call it in as a noise complaint, and then we can go investigate it.”
The department will respond to anonymous calls if the caller fears retaliation, he added. Officers will never reveal a caller’s identity, but the perpetrator may have an idea who it is.
“That’s reality,” Kinning admitted, even though incidents of retaliation are rare in his experience.
The involvement of the public can prevent physical injury or even death. But people need to understand that the inter- vention of police does not guarantee a positive resolution.
“It’s hard for us to do anything about it unless we have the cooperation of the victim,” Kinning said. “If people report something, and we get there and don’t see signs of physical evidence, there’s not a whole lot we can do either.”