Talking to the Police: Be Prepared
By: Sydney Martin
If you or someone you love is experiencing domestic violence, reporting to the police might be something that needs to be done, but is a daunting task. It can also be scary. The National Domestic Violence Hotline conducted a law enforcement survey in 2015 and found that survivors “were afraid calling the police might result in losing privacy, being stereotyped, having an abusive partner retaliate or negatively affecting their children.”
However, the boys in blue are here to help you and we’re here to help you prepare to talk to the police. We can give you tips on how to act around police officers, whether it’s to report an incident or file a protection order. We want you to be best prepared so that these interactions with law enforcement do nothing but help you. Your interactions with police officers should only be beneficial but sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.
That being said, we have called upon a member of law enforcement, so we can relay what officers are looking for when they go into domestic violence situations. Bryan Nelson, currently a sergeant for the New York State Courts, has been involved in law enforcement for almost 19 years. He has worked on patrol for the majority of his career, and he reports that he has responded to hundreds of domestic incidents, ranging from verbal arguments to serious assaults. He estimates that for each incident he responded to, he filed a domestic incident report. Nelson offered up his experience as advice to survivors of domestic violence:
- Cooperate: His first suggestion for domestic violence survivors is to make sure you do everything the officer asks, even if it doesn’t make sense at the time. Officers responding to a situation come in not knowing who the aggressor is, and they are trying to determine this as quickly as possible. Your cooperation will help them figure out what is going on.
- Stay Calm: Remember the police are there to help you. Take some deep breaths so that you can answer the officer’s questions and help them help you.
- Answer Questions: Once you are being interviewed by an officer, be straightforward when answering questions, even if it seems embarrassing or scary at the time. Nelson said to let the officer know right away if there were any weapons involved, and if you are in need of medical assistance. The officer will also want to know if anyone else saw the incident, and if there were any children present.
“I can’t speak for every officer,” Nelson said. “But I think most officers really try hard to be approachable and sympathetic in domestic situations, especially toward the survivor, and they really want to help.”
Keep this in mind – the more information you give to the officers, the better they can help you.
- Be Honest: Although it can be scary to speak against your abuser, trust that the officers there will keep you safe.
“Many times, due to the emotional nature of domestic situations, people feel trapped by their significant others, or feel a strong loyalty to them, despite the bad behavior they have just been victims of, and actually try to protect the perpetrators of bad or criminal behavior towards themselves,” he said. “Unless the victim is honest and forthcoming, the cycle of violence may continue.”
Some departments have “pro arrest” policies, in which an officer can become a plaintiff against the abuser if they see obvious signs of abuse and the survivor is too scared to make a statement. However, it is best for the survivor to make a statement to the officer about what occurred, even if you are not comfortable with following through with prosecution. Once again, the officers are there to help you, so giving them information will help.
- Talk with Whom You are Most Comfortable: If you are most comfortable speaking with a female officer, then don’t hesitate to ask. If it is possible, the police should make that happen. If it is not possible, do your best to stay calm and speak openly and honestly with a male officer.
- Ask for a Domestic Violence Advocate: The National Domestic Violence Hotline recommends asking if there is an officer who is a part of a domestic violence unit, or victim service advocate connected to the force. You can also ask for a local crisis center. Calling for services while they are present can be a good idea. Nelson said that most departments provide assistance directing survivors of domestic violence to outside agencies with domestic violence expertise, so don’t hesitate to ask for other resources.
- Ask if You Don’t Understand: The National Domestic Violence Hotline reminds you that you do not have to sign any documents that you cannot understand or cannot read. Don’t hesitate to ask for help in understanding.
Reporting to the police can be very difficult and emotional. For more tips, as well as some different ways to file reports, you can find them at The National Domestic Violence Hotline. But, despite the challenges of contacting the police, know that these individuals are there to protect and serve you. With these tips on how to speak with officers, hopefully you can feel confident and prepared to break the silence.