It’s the most common call received by our local police departments. A family member, a close friend or a neighbor calls dispatch to report suspected domestic violence.
Even a stranger will, on occasion, call in after witnessing a battery in public.
“My experience has been, though, that for every one that is reported, there’s at least a handful that are not,” Nampa Police Detective Kari Seibel told the Idaho Press-Tribune. “So people stepping up and reporting what they’ve witnessed does not always happen.”
A possible reason for this apprehension is fear of retribution. If an abuser is willing to use violence against someone they love, what will they do to a complete stranger?
No civilian is ever expected to step in and physically intervene, Seibel said. But giving police an anonymous tip could be the victim’s only chance at coming to the attention of law enforcement.
Officers don’t mind false alarms, either. It’s their job — not the job of the witness — to determine if domestic violence has occurred.
— Charlotte Wiemerslage, local editor
Law enforcement strives to help victims — even when they don’t want help
Detective Kari Seibel loves her job. It’s satisfying, she said, to help those trapped in abusive relationships get the help they need to turn their lives around. But it’s also frustrating, because the stream of domestic violence cases never ends.
And those are only the ones the police know about. She can only speculate, she said, about how many never come to law enforcement’s attention.
By the time a case comes across Seibel’s desk, she already knows she’s dealing with a domestic violence situation. A victim may walk into the Nampa Family Justice Center looking for help, or an anonymous tipster might call with concerns about a friend or neighbor.
Other times, a patrol officer might spot some telltale signs while going about routine tasks.
“You maybe see some erratic driving behavior, or you’ll pull up behind them at an intersection and you potentially could witness a physical battery occurring,” Seibel said. “Or you can tell by someone’s body language that they’re in a heated argument which was preceded by physical battery.”
Patrol officers might also spot a battery in process on a street, in a front yard, or even inside an open doorway.
Some abusers, Seibel said, are brazen enough to strike their partners in public spaces like stores and restaurants. And they might even get away with it, because not everyone picks up the phone when they should.
“People call in and say, ‘Hey, I saw this suspect punch this victim as they were leaving the parking lot,’ or, ‘This happened in Aisle 6 at Walmart,’” she said. “My experience has been, though, that for every one that is reported, there’s at least a handful that are not. So people stepping up and reporting what they’ve witnessed does not always happen.”
So why wouldn’t someone report it? Seibel asked that very question when she taught a group of Nampa residents at a citizens’ academy. A common answer: If someone is willing to use violence against someone they love, what will they do to a complete stranger? What if it escalates? What if they have a weapon?
Seibel’s response: No civilian is ever expected to step in and physically intervene. But placing an anonymous call as soon as you’re out of earshot might be that victim’s only chance — ever — to come to law enforcement’s attention.
And even if a witness isn’t sure what they saw qualifies as domestic abuse, it’s the job of detectives — not the general public — to figure that out.
“It’s really a stressful situation for a law enforcement officer to make that determination,” Canyon County Sheriff’s Office Detective Val Brisbin said. “But that’s what they’ve been trained to do, is decipher what’s happened in that situation.”
A detective might also become aware of a domestic violence situation through the investigation of another incident — while looking into a health and welfare or child abuse case, Brisbin said, an investigator might find that one spouse has an unhealthy amount of control over the other.
Those kinds of incidents don’t always correlate with domestic violence, he said, and there’s not necessarily a causal relationship between them. But often, for those with a need to control others, it can manifest in different ways.
“Obviously if there’s a domestic abuse relationship, you’re going to have fallout with the children in one way or another,” Brisbin said. “We’ve had cases when we’ve investigated child abuse or neglect or something like that, and realized there’s a bigger picture with the domestic issue.”
And it’s a big issue, Seibel said: Domestic violence calls are the single most common type of call police respond to. It’s not centered in any particular neighborhood, income-level or ethnicity. It’s everywhere. And even for those not involved in abusive relationships, they almost certainly know someone who is.
One of the most important things she tries to tell those in abusive relationships: Look at how it’s affecting your kids.
“You just got your nose broken. You’ve got blood all over your face and your clothes, and none of your kids are crying,” she said. “None of your kids are showing that they’re scared. That’s because this is a normal for them at this point. This is not the most traumatic experience that they’ve been through, and that’s worrisome to me.”
And as they grow up, they’re more likely to continue the cycle of violence than children from healthy homes.
“Statistically, studies have shown that if they’re males, they’re at a higher percentage to become abusers themselves if they’ve witnessed it as kids,” Seibel said. “And females, if they witness it, they’re at a higher percentage to become victims.”
© 2013 Idaho Press-Tribune