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What to do When the Police Leave: A Guide to the First Days of Traumatic Loss
What to do When the
Police Leave: A Guide
to the First Days of
Traumatic Loss

Battered Women in the Courtroom: The Power of Judicial Response
Battered Women in
the Courtroom: The
Power of
Judicial Response

Restorative Justice and Family Violence
Restorative Justice
& Family Violence

Domestic Violence and the Politics of Privacy
Domestic Violence
and the
Politics of Privacy

No Visible Wounds: Identifying Non-Physical Abuse of Women by Their Men
No Visible Wounds:
Identifying Non-Physical
Abuse of Women
by Their Men

I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know
I Love a Cop:
What Police Families
Need to Know

Cops Don't Cry: Help for Police Families
Cops Don't Cry:
Help for Police Families

Force Under Pressure: How Cops Live and Why They Die
Force Under Pressure:
How Cops Live and
Why They Die

Police Responses to Domestic Violence

Arrested: What to Do When Your Loved One's in Jail Arrested: What to Do When Your Loved One's in Jail

When family members or loved ones are arrested, things get crazy fast. Inmates want bail bonds and private attorneys, food from the commissary, healthcare and prescription drugs. They want someone to prove, somehow, that witnesses were lying or that police reports were incorrect. Lawyers and bail bondsmen appear, as if by magic, with hands held out for money, and are followed by jail fees, arrest fees, jail phone charges, commissary fees, probation fees, class fees, drug test fees, and on and on. What to do?

Arrested is the only guide to supporting family members facing criminal charges. It explains how to make decisions that are in the best interests of the entire family—not just the defendant—and provides checklists of what things to do, and in what order. Form letters called “jail mail” are included to help readers quickly send important information to inmates.

Kindle edition available.

Calling the Police

Never forget that 911 is your lifeline to police protection and intervention. If possible, get away from the abuser and call from your cell phone, a neighbor's house, pay phone, or other location with other people around. If this is too dangerous, try to get to a place, either in your home or out, where you can safely make your call.

WARNING: YOUR AVERAGE TEN YEAR OLD CAN KICK IN A BATHROOM OR BEDROOM DOOR! Be sure that you've worked through your safety plan so you'll know ahead of time how you'll leave or where in the home you can be safest to summon help. This is NOT the kind of thing you want to try to figure out in the midst of a violent incident; if you've thought it through ahead of time, you'll be more likely to react to your plan and not freeze. Keep in mind that kitchens are full of knives and other weapons, and that the interior doors in most homes are meant for privacy, NOT safety - one good kick can defeat most of them.

If this isn't possible, and you have a wired phone, just dial 911 and drop the phone. If using a cell phone or computer-based phone, the very first thing to say when they answer is your ADDRESS, then say that you need police help. If you're not able to say anything else, these are the two most important items police need to know in order to help you. Then: DON'T HANG UP! If you hang up, the dispatcher who gets the 911 signal will call back to find out what's going on. This gives the abuser a chance to try to tell the dispatcher that everything is fine or make up some excuse as to why the call was placed. Even though most departments will send a police officer anyway, this could tip off your abuser that you've attempted to get help. For some, this might make them hurry to leave to avoid being arrested...for others it can cause the violence to get even more intense because they will be angered that you called police. The dispatcher will attempt to keep you on the phone and ask you questions; if you can stay and answer them in safety, then do so...but if you can't, just drop the phone to keep the line open, and take whatever steps you need to in order to keep yourself and your children safe. Imagining these scenarios BEFORE they ever happen is vital to increasing your safety - people tend to cling to the phone for safety during violent domestic violence incidents, and while it can be helpful for police to have additional information about what is happening while they are on the way, the plain truth is that the phone and your connection to the dispatcher will NOT save you from violence or death. The dispatcher cannot see what's happening on your end, and they are trained to NOT give you advice, authority to act, or direction on what to do in such incidents. You won't hurt their feelings or get in trouble by yelling that you need help and dropping the phone. If that's what you need to do, then do it!

Don't forget to teach your kids to use 911; the life they save could be yours!

When Police Arrive

When police arrive to calls that they believe involve domestic violence, they are going to be on edge and attempt to take control of the situation immediately (DV calls are among the most dangerous to officers; statistically more officers are killed on domestic violence calls than any other type of call for service. Only vehicle crashes and incidents during traffic stops kill more). That means they will want to locate EVERYONE in the home, check that they are physically safe, get them medical attention if necessary, and then get each person separated so that they can be questioned and give their statements about what happened. Police may also put one or more people in handcuffs for their own protection while they investigate the situation. Note that this does NOT necessarily mean an arrest.

If the call, whether through 911 or not, and whether made by someone in the home, or a neighbor or passerby, indicated that there might be some type of violence occurring, that creates a situation called "exegent circumstances" - which typically gives police the ability to enter the home without a warrant if no one answers the door (they have a duty, based on the circumstances, to check for any potential victims).

Once police have located and separated everyone, and police have had a chance to look around for signs of violence, they will talk to those involved to get statements about what happened. If, through a combination of circumstances and statements, police reasonably believe that a crime, such as assault (threats) or battery (any unwanted touching, even without inury) has occurred, expect police to make an arrest. They can arrest only one person if they think that one person was the primary aggressor, or, if they think it was mutual violence, they can arrest both people (or more, if more than two were involved). They won't just make a person leave, or walk around the block to cool off, nor will police simply calm things down and leave or give people a "talking to" - thanks to the high rate of homicide associated with domestic violence, those days are very long gone. If they have reason to believe that domestic violence occurred, arrest is going to follow, no matter how much the victim might not want that to happen. Domestic violence USED TO be considered a private family matter, and police used to be only concerned about serious injury and keeping things quiet...but in modern times, domestic violence is a serious crime, and police are going to treat it as such.

If the person isn't there...

If one or more people involved in the incident have left the scene by the time police arrive, and if after speaking to the victim and/or witnesses they believe that a crime took place, they may attempt to look for a suspect. If they can locate that suspect quickly, arrest can happen as soon as the suspect is located. If they are not able to find the person quickly, then police will work with the local prosecutor and judge to request a warrant be placed on the suspect. Every state has their own recommendations, and every department has their own policies on what time frame constitutes "fresh pursuit". Twelve hours is typical, but your particular jurisdiction might vary.

Being questioned by police after a violent incident can feel pressuring and create a high level of anxiety. An advocate can help bridge the gap between the emotional despair you're feeling and the police officer who is trying to get as much information out of you as possible. Don't be afraid to ask to have someone else there. Some people would rather have a friend or relative present for support, others prefer the compassion of a stranger here. Ask for whatever is right for YOU. Larger police agencies and sheriff's departments may have an on-call advocates, and you should ask if one is available. If there's not one available immediately, most police agencies have a special packet of information that they will give to domestic violence victims. This "kit" usually includes local contact information for a victim advocate, information on how to request a restraining order, and similar information often needed or requested by victims.

You will be asked the standard questions about the suspect: name, race, address, date of birth, height, weight, hair and eye color, etc.

If you can provide any of the following information, the chances of your abuser being arrested quickly begin to skyrocket: (dont' count on your memory here, it tends to fail you at the worst moments). Be prepared by having these basic facts gathered in one place:


  • Social security number

  • Year, make and model of any vehicles and the LICENSE PLATE NUMBERS
    Be SURE to note anything "odd" about the vehicle...cracks, dents, bumper stickers, etc. Officers see lists of many "suspect" vehicles during daily briefings and they will be more likely to remember a bumper sticker than a general vehicle description.

  • The abusers place of employment and the address

  • Scars, marks or tatoos

  • Places they frequent (bars, friend's houses, hang outs, etc.)

Be sure to mention any drug use and if known to carry any type of weapon. Also let the officers know if there are any guns or other weapons in the home, car, etc. Police may take these weapons to prevent access by the abuser.

You may want to write this all down ahead of time and keep it in your kit, it will make the questioning session with the police shorter and take some of the strain off of you. It's never an easy process, but don't forget to take care of yourself emotionally when you take the step to protect yourself physically.

If the abuser has fled the scene and you are scared to stay, ask the police to wait while you pack clothing and other items. If you need to go back later, and you don't feel safe doing so, call the police and ask an officer to meet you close by - THEN follow the officer to your house to get your stuff.


Whether arresteed at the scene, shortly after under "fresh pursuit", or arrested at a later time on a warrant, the process moves forward like this:

The arrested person will be taken to the local jail, where they will be photographed, fingerprinted, and booked under charges as listed by the arresting officer. These may NOT be the actual charges that the prosecutor later brings. It's possible that some charges may not be brought or additional charges might be added. How quickly the arrested person can be released depends on a number of factors, and those can vary widely depending on your state's laws. In many states, an arrest for a domestic violence charge carries a mandatory holding period - anything from 12 hours to a day or two. This is to give the victim time to seek safety, seek a restraining order, or take other steps to enhance safety before the arrested is released.

From there, the process is in the hands of the prosecutor and the courts.

REMEMBER: The police rely on YOU to judge how effectively their "style" of policing is serving the community. If you have either positive or negative comments about the way the police helped you, consider providing that feedback in a letter or phone call to the police chief or the sheriff. If more immediate feedback is needed, call the department and ask to speak to the supervisor on duty. This is the person immediately responsible for ensuring that their personnel are properly enforcing the laws and following department policies and procedures designed to protect members of the community like you and your family.

The Criminal Law Handbook: Know Your Rights, Survive the SystemThe Criminal Law Handbook: Know Your Rights, Survive the System>

The criminal justice system becomes increasingly complex each year as new laws and decisions can change legal standards dramatically. And at a time when even law enforcement is being affected by hiring freezes and budget cuts, the result is fewer resources and public programs for those accused of crimes, and their friends and families. That's why it's crucial that you have access to clear and complete explanations of all aspects of criminal law and procedure.

The Criminal Law Handbook answers your questions about every part of a criminal case, from cops to crooks. Find out everything you've ever wanted to know about how the system works, and the how and why police, lawyers and judges doing what they do. It covers:

arrestsbookingpreliminary hearings
arraignmentsearch and seizuredefenses
evidencetrialsplea bargains
sentencingjuvenileslanguage in criminal statutes.

Kindle edition available.

I CAN'T Call the Police: My abuser IS the police!

If your abuser is a police officer, your level of danger is multiplied many times over. Statistically, police families experience a higher than average incidence of domestic violence, including a high rate of violence leading to the death of the victim coupled with the suicide of the abuser. There are a lot of different theories about why this is so, most of which have to do with attitudes about power and control or about high levels of job stress coupled with easy access to weapons. When you understand the dynamic of police culture, it's easy to see why the murder-suicide rate is so high in police-related domestic violence: if a law enforcement officer commits the crime of domestic violence and anyone at the job finds out about it, they risk losing what many of them consider to be "everything", including not only their relationship with you, but their job, their standing in the community, their group of close and reliable friends (fellow officers) and their position of power which may constitute a big part of their self-esteem. The results would be the same whether they left a little scratch on your cheek or beat you enough to send you to the hospital. Once they've crossed that line, there's no going back - and with everything they have to lose, it's not a big leap to see why domestic violence incidents in police families start with relatively minor injuries to the victim but then escalate to the victim being murdered (usually shot) and the abuser taking their own life to avoid the inevitable consequences.

So what do you do? First, you be CAREFUL! Deciding whether or not to involve the law enforcement agency at any level can literally be a life and death decision. While most law enforcement agencies have Employee Assistance Programs designed to provide confidential counseling for familes in crisis, accessing such programs can serve to further inflame the abuser. Regardless of (supposed) confidentiality, in the abuser's eyes, you've still "told on" them. Going to the Internal Affairs Division carries similar risks. While this can make you feel safer for making a formal complaint, it still carries the ultimate outcome of exposing the officer as an abuser and thus the risks as well. Even going to a fellow officer who is a friend of the family can trigger the abuser to retaliate against you if that officer confronts your abuser, even in the spirit of trying to help.

Only you can know the dynamics in your relationship, and the dynamics between yourself and those at the abuser's law enforcement employer who might be your protective allies. Just as in all other things, your reactions to the violence at home need to fall under the umbrella of a comprehensive safety plan. One thing you SHOULD do is immediately contact your local independent domestic violence program. You don't need to give your name or identify the law enforcement agency your abuser works for. But if you are planning to leave (with or without your children), you will need assistance in safety planning - their services and contacts can be VITAL to helping to keep you and your activities as safe as possible. For instance, it's likely that as a law enforcement officer, your abuser knows the location of the closest shelter, so this isn't a safe option for you. Ask your local program to help to make alternate arrangements, including any protective programs like getting a new social security number, changing your name, or using an address confidentiality program. If your abuser is a law enforcement professional, you ABSOLUTELY need to be working very closely with your local program. They have the experience, networking, resources, and contacts to provide you with options and protections that you won't have on your own (and, in many states, they have special immunities and can invoke confidentiality on behalf of victims that allows them to put the safety of victims ABOVE having to fully cooperate with law enforcement).

We very strongly recommend that you read Police Domestic Violence: A Handbook for Victims (PDF) by Diane Wetendorf. This is an excellent look at the culture of police domestic violence and a thorough examination of the pros and cons of various avenues of reaction by victims.

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Last Updated: March 3, 2011