When there is an act of domestic violence there is usually (and hopefully) a police report detailing the alleged incident. But what happens when the police officer is the perpetrator of the domestic violence? Well, New Jersey has just issued a new model police department policy for handling domestic violence incidents that involve law enforcement officers. The new policy would apply to all municipal police departments, as well as state and county law enforcement agencies.
According to long-standing New Jersey Attorney General Directives, if a law enforcement officer is found to have committed an act of domestic violence, that officer will have their weapons seized. (Directives 2000-3 and 2000-4). The new model policy is designed to ensure that police departments have in place clear guidelines when investigating domestic violence complaints involving their own officers. The new policy attempts to ensure a thorough fact-finding process that is fair to both domestic violence victims and the accused officers by incorporating the involvement of police chiefs and county prosecutors. The new policy also attempts to prevent any perceived intimidation or bias during investigations.
Law enforcement officers have a reputation of protecting one another, no doubt a result of working a dangerous job where they depend on one another for their safety. This type of camaraderie can no doubt foster a public perception that law enforcement officers would be biased during the course of an investigation of one of their own.
The model policy not only addresses remedial steps, but also preventative steps that law enforcement agencies can take to detect and prevent domestic violence, including: background investigations for new employees that would screen out candidates with histories of domestic violence or sexual assault; psychological examinations of all candidates for law enforcement positions and regular annual training on domestic violence issues and the impact of domestic violence within police departments; and supervisors would be trained on how to recognize early warning signs of domestic violence behavior such as excessive or increased use of force on the job, deteriorating work performance, or alcohol/drug abuse.
The new model policy also details incident response protocols, reporting and documentation protocols and recommends that any allegations of domestic violence offenses by high-ranking law enforcement officers – police chiefs or police directors — be referred to prosecutor’s offices for oversight. While these responses are helpful to law enforcement officers, the new model policy is important if an attorney is involved in the representation of a party where one of the parties is a law enforcement officer. The integrity of a police report at trial or a hearing will be measured by the testimony of the police officer and the protocols that were taken during the investigation. If protocols were followed, under this new policy the police report could be given greater weight and bolster the testimony. If protocols were not followed, the police report and testimony could be found less credible.