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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Officer Kiana Farlow is a 2021 COPS Office Law Enforcement Fellow. In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, she has provided a first-hand account of life as an officer with extensive experience responding to domestic violence / intimate partner violence calls and why a philosophy of community-oriented policing helps to keep everyone on scene safe.
The scariest and most dangerous calls that I responded to on patrol were domestic violence / intimate partner violence (DV/IPV) calls. DV calls feel like being in a suspense movie because you never know what will happen next! As an officer who has responded to DV on college campuses and in a high crime inner city municipal department, I know too well how badly these calls can go when not approached carefully and calmly, using a soft-spoken voice whenever possible to prevent the families or intimate partners from escalating further. My first year as an officer on the job in 2012, I realized how angry people got when I yelled back at them during DV calls; I made the adjustment by using a softer tone and now I get better results.
DV/IPV calls are sometimes confusing to figure out because of the clutter and multiple people who are potentially on scene. When an officer is in doubt, it is important to slow down, look for scars or injuries, and ask questions about them. Slowing things down, observing, and asking questions can help with finding out who the victim is on a DV/IPV call (it is not always clear). I have also noticed that once you do figure out who the victim is, sometimes the victim no longer wants to file a complaint or cooperate with police. In these cases, I normally tell the victim, “I cannot get justice without you, we have to work together.” During this time, the victim craves reassurance and guidance to complete the process of taking the step to file a complaint. The victim may try to back out because they do not trust that you will provide resources to escape their current domestic situation nor that you will protect them from retaliation; this is why reassurance matters.
It’s important to know that people want resources to get results and help more than they want you wielding authority that they feel will reduce them to a statistic. When you give them resources, they feel that you care. When you just come with authority, they feel like you are just another officer coming to boss them around and take over their lives. Therefore, reassurance is always good to show them you are there as a resource and to let them know they are still in control of their life. I am grateful to say that I have had the opportunity to connect community members to couples therapy, personal counseling, and domestic hotlines. I am also able to change the mood on scene with my humor and sharing my own stories! Storytelling helped me so many days because when people hear your story, they mentally get a break from their current situation.
DV/IPV calls frequently lead to officers being injured. Last year during the George Floyd protests, I tore my labrum on a domestic call just writing a report, after parties on the scene were de-escalated and separated. Unfortunately, a third party arrived on scene, running down the street at full speed. When I made the attempt to prevent the third party (intimate partner) from tackling the girlfriend who was already on location, he still was able to push past. Normally, domestics are to be handled by two or more officers. However, I think three or more officers should be required. While the two officers separate the parties, the third officer and any additional responding officers can help keep watch for any sudden parties coming on location to the scene. My shoulder will never function the same even after physical therapy. As an officer who serves in the community and speaks and breathes community engagement, when it comes to DV/IPV, no matter the community policing tactics you use, it will always be dangerous for officers.
I will close with a story for you about taking a community-oriented policing approach to a DV/IPV call. I was on a domestic violence call on Mother’s Day 2018. The call came out as a man having a gun pointed to a woman’s head as he threatened “I will blow your head off.” On this day, I was solo and I was the only person available at the time. When I answered, a few other officers came over to back me up. As I was driving, I could feel my own heart began to race, but I wanted to help in any way that I could.
When I arrived, I was the first officer on scene. At this time, I noticed a woman yelling out of the second-floor window, a young kid on the first floor standing at the door with a dog, and an older man who came to the door to speak with me. I made sure to keep eyes on the hands of everyone while I told everyone, “Everything is okay.” The older man advised me that he was arguing with his girlfriend. I assured him that everything will be okay, and I was here for him.
He began to trust me because of my approach. I told him that I would need to detain him for my safety and that all was well. Before I knew it, the man had turned around and let me put the handcuffs on him before I walked him to my patrol car. By the time my back-up arrived, the man was in the back of my car. While an officer watched the detained man, I finished investigating the call to gather further information.
The woman and boy (who turned out to be her son) confirmed to me that the older man had a gun to her head and did make the threat of blowing her head off before I arrived. I asked if the gun was still on location; she stated the gun was on the bed. She took me to the gun: multiple shotguns were in plain view, sitting in bed where the handgun (the instrument of crime) was. I confiscated the shotguns for safekeeping and the handgun for evidence. When I got back to headquarters, officers could not believe that I confiscated five shotguns and a handgun as a solo unit.
I share this story to illustrate that the way you talk to people and make them feel can go a long way. It can save not only the victim’s life but yours as well. My weapons on my tool belt didn’t keep me safe; my ability to positively engage through conversation and treating people with respect did! My heart was still racing for a few hours after that call.
Law Enforcement Fellow
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
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