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Domestic Disturbance Response: 10 Tips for Winning at these Volatile Calls

Around ten years ago, as a patrol division deputy sheriff with the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I walked up some porch stairs to knock on the door of a mobile home. Suddenly, I was tackled on the front porch by a 175-pound sheet rock hanger who was annoyed that I responded to the repeat domestic violence 911 calls to dispatchers that came in while we were en route.

After what turned out to be an at least eight minute struggle (according to dispatch logs) on this drunk and drugged man’s front porch, two other deputies (luckily they were there) and I were able to secure him.

He went to jail, after being treated in the emergency room, and we were able to go home the next morning. As a deputy on my shift remarked after the dust settled: “You know, we go to these domestics all the time here and we forget what can go wrong and how dangerous they can be. Your call was a real wake up call for the rest of us.”

That deputy sheriff was right.

All readers of this column should know that responding to domestic disturbance calls are dangerous. This Weinblatt’s Tip will hopefully serve as a reminder of some of the right things to do so that you can go home at the end of the shift.

1. Have backup. If your department’s policies and manpower allocation allow it, make sure that you respond to domestics with at least one other officer or deputy. This is vital for officer safety.

2. Get information. Query your dispatch or call taking communications center with whatever information they could glean from the caller or callers. The information on weapons, number of subjects involved, prior subject and location history, any active warrants, description of vehicles leaving, etc. could make a huge difference for you upon arrival in the area.

3. Park wisely. Position your patrol car away from the response location and try to refrain from passing it during your attempt to locate. To illustrate the point: the old patrol building of the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department was named after Deputy Leo Gurule. He was shot in his car when he pulled in front of a mobile home responding to a domestic.

4. Scan the area. Don’t rush into a situation. A dead hero is not going to help anyone. Take time to scan the area. Observe with your eyes and your ears to figure out what you may be walking into before it runs into you.

5. Position yourselves. Be sure not to bunch up at the door and give someone a clear shot at a couple officers near each other. Put additional officers away from the primary officer with adequate use of cover.

6. Establish presence and control. In defensive tactics, the operative word is control. You want to establish your presence in a home quickly and control all persons within that residence.

7. ID people and weapons. Make sure that you quickly identify the people present. The cover officer can discreetly radio in information for a quick warrant check while the contact officer determines the presence and location of any weapons.

8. Separate parties. The big advantage of multiple law enforcer response is the ability to separate the parties involved to cool them off and get non-contaminated renditions of what transpired. In the vein of good officer positioning, be sure that they can’t see each other, but that you can see your partner over the person’s shoulder.

9. Document. I can’t stress this enough…document, document, and document. Be sure that you note down all pertinent information in your report’s narrative. Many agencies have a tendency to skimp in their reports and that shortchanges the officers later when legal proceedings (whether criminal or civil) crop up. Be sure that you use additional means of documentation, such as your in-car camera, photos, and written voluntary statements, to back up your observations noted in your narrative.

10. Fight complacency. Much as the deputy sheriff in Santa Fe County said, don’t forget how unpredictable domestic disturbance calls can be. Resist the temptation to be complacent.

Domestics are unpredictable and deserve the reputation for being fraught with danger for the patrol officer. The use of good judgment and officer safety should hopefully minimize your chances of having to fight for eight very long minutes.

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