Study: Few arrests for number of domestic battery calls

2013-09-28T22:30:00Z 2013-09-29T23:03:06Z Study: Few arrests for number of domestic battery callsSusan Brown susan.brown@nwi.com, (219) 662-5325 nwitimes.com
September 28, 2013 10:30 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | On the cusp of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a study shows a low number of arrests considering the high number of emergency calls.

"We wanted to understand this," said Joseph Ferrandino, assistant professsor of criminal justice in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Northwest in Gary.

"Why were there so few arrests considering the high volume of calls?" Ferrandino said. "The only way to get to that was to interview officers who handled the most calls."

Ferrandino researches the efficiency of criminal justice systems, crime policy and the intersection of criminal justice and public administration. He works with area police departments mapping crimes and calls, analyzing trends and assisting with resource allocation.

In analyzing calls from 2008 forward, findings showed the prevalence of domestic disturbance in the region and the low level of arrests compared to other states.

Nine veteran officers from three local police departments were then interviewed on their views on discretion, Indiana's domestic battery statute, reporting practices -- and frustrations.

The results were presented at this month's meeting of the Lake County Assault/Domestic Violence Task Force.

The identities of the participating police officers and police departments were not disclosed.

 "We wanted them to be honest with us," Ferrandino said.

Officers were asked how they determined probable cause for an arrest, what kind of training they received or needed from their viewpoint and similar issues, he said.

"We found most officers were driven by the literal (interpretation) of the statute as to what really constitutes domestic violence, which is very limited in Indiana," Ferrandino said.

The officers also spoke of their frustration with victims who wanted to press charges "in the moment" but later would bail out the perpetrator and return to the relationship, he said.

Dan Tsataros, assistant professor in the school of public administration at IUN, took issue with the state's statute guiding the officers.

"The statute in Indiana is really only protective of spouses," said Tsataros, a former Cook County deputy prosecutor.

Tsataros said Indiana's statute serves to exclude any relationship but a spouse, unlike that of Illinois where the statute can be applied to non-spousal relationships.

"It's way too narrow," he said of Indiana's law.

The state's domestic battery statute indicates the court has discretion in determining whether a person meets the level of "living as a spouse of another person" for purposes of the statute.

"It's not that the prosecutor's office doesn't care," Tsataros said. "We're not here to point a finger at prosecutors or police. It's the law that needs to be rewritten."

Tsataros also recommends the prosecutor's office provide more training and education for police officers.

Other differences with Illinois involve Cook County's use of court calls dedicated solely to domestic violence cases, he said.

In the surburban districts, Tsataros said there are judges handling such cases five days a week aided by a staff of deputy prosecutors dedicated to domestic violence cases.

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