2004-04-30 / Columnists

The Citizen’s Police Academy Report

The Citizen’s Police Academy Report


I’ll never forget my first encounter with domestic violence. I was riding backseat in a patrol car in the seven five, East New York (that’s the 75th Precinct in cop-speak), during the summer of 2002. The woman was standing on the concrete outside her apartment crying when the officers and I rolled up.

Her first name slips my mind, but the officers knew her immediately; they had been there before. It was a hot day in June. I was participating in the Civilian Ride-Along Program.

She wore a sundress dotted with a pattern of small flowers, and she stood with one arm on top of her protruding stomach holding a cell phone, while the other wiped her drippy nose and eyes. I was sweating in the back of the RMP (radio motor patrol in cop-speak), perspiring into a bulletproof vest – craning my head to see out the front passenger window. She was in her mid 20s.

"You all right? Where is he now?" the officer in the passenger seat asked her. She was not injured.

"He left, and he took a set of keys," I remember her saying in an accented voice.

Then there was a discussion of an Order of Protection. She had one – He was just coming over to grab some of his things and he wound up staying the night, but then things got out of hand in the morning. It might have been over a television set. She was pregnant. He was the father.

The officer sitting in front of me filled out a standard procedure form that I would later find out is called a DIR – Domestic Incident Report. Then I remember her getting a phone call, and stepping back from the patrol car. She returned and there was talk of a locksmith. I doubted her sincerity.

Meanwhile, calls were coming in from central.

"Seven five David," said the voice on the radio. We were in the section marked "D" on the precinct map.

"Seven five David," the officer in the driver seat answered. What followed was a numeric "radio call" – arbitrary numeric combinations indicating what the next job would be – followed by an address. I was clueless. The driver acknowledged the info and wrote it down in a notebook.

Now, I was trying to get some idea what the next call was and I was wondering why we were not brushing off this woman so we could get to the next "job." Maybe the silent alarm at a bank was triggered I thought, or maybe there was an accident.

The officer in the passenger seat told the woman that they’d come back and arrest the man if he returned and she called 911.

"Let’s go. You gotta be kidding me!" I thought to myself. "We’re sitting here writing a manuscript for this woman who, once again, let in the guy who treats her badly – while something, anything, more interesting is going on!" Sometimes my mood swings between "sensitive" and "complete jerk."

This was all matter-of-fact to the professionals sitting in front of me. The passenger side officer passed the woman the DIR – there was a section for her to comment and sign her name. She took it from him, along with a pen, and shuffled so she could lean on the hood of the car.

"Brian, remind me later, I want you to look at that," the officer told me quietly.

Pretty soon, we were underway. I leaned forward and asked to see the DIR. It had three or four phonetically misspelled words on it and a curvy line for a signature. I sat back in the patrol car and thought about how miserable that woman’s life must be and how disadvantaged she clearly was.

Domestic violence was the subject of the latest lecture at the Citizen’s Police Academy. Consider this: The New York City Police Department responds to about 600 domestic incidents every day; 6.2 million women are abused in the United States each year; and the NYPD made almost 24,000 family-related arrests during fiscal year 2001.

As far as these calls go, my experience was essentially a breeze for the officers I was with. Domestic violence cases are among the more dangerous and unpredictable jobs to which the police are called. These situations typically involve at least one person who is agitated and maybe violent, perhaps two or more. Police presence is not always welcome. And officers have to enter other people’s domain – where they are disadvantaged because they may not know the layout and have no idea what potentially harmful weapons or objects are inside.

According to the Police Student’s Guide, a domestic dispute involves two or more people living in a "family-type setting" where a verbal conflict has arisen. A domestic violence incident occurs when the conflict between those people reaches a criminal level. As you can tell from the use of the term family-type setting, the variations of the traditional family are included.

Family offenses include menacing, assault, disorderly conduct, reckless endangerment, harassment, aggravated harassment and stalking. Verbal threats made against the victim results in the charge of intimidating a witness.

You might be interested to know that any violation of a valid order of protection, a legal order signed by a judge restricting certain threatening behavior, will automatically result in an arrest. So, the stories you’ve heard about the spouse who was invited over only to be arrested may be true after all. The decision was taken out of the hands of police officers to keep them from becoming lawyers, our police academy instructors said. Officers must arrest the offender in any felony situation and will arrest in misdemeanors, unless the complainant specifically requests otherwise.

I also found it interesting that when an officer thinks that more than one person has committed a family offence misdemeanor during a particular incident the officer does not have to arrest all of the people involved. Instead, the officer can determine who the "primary physical aggressor" was and arrest him or her. The law, however, does not prohibit the arrest of all involved.

For the second part of this week’s lecture, we ventured down to the auditorium for a domestic violence role-play. The two police officers who played the roles of the violent husband and submissive wife frustrated the Civilian’s Academy volunteers who did their best as police officers.

The mantra "calm behavior is contagious behavior" is something Sergeant Anthony Direnzo has told us many times, but as the violent husband, who was about a foot taller than the male officer, screamed during the role-play, I realized that this kind of confrontation would be an alien experience for me. My brother Shea might yell at me sometimes, but I don’t ever worry that he will hit me – and keep hitting me.

The lecture, which brought back my memory of the woman from the ride-along, made me doubt whether I would be able to deal with stress and frustration that comes with domestic violence calls.

Next week we go downstairs to the firearms simulator, where I imagine I will probably shoot every good guy, bad guy and trashcan that winds up in front of the barrel of my laser-light "gun." I’ll let you know how I do.

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