Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Karen Jarmoc, CEO and president of Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly host a discussion on dual arrests (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT – Connecticut’s “dual arrest” rate, where both the aggressor and the victim in a domestic violence incident are arrested, far exceeds the national average, but law enforcement officials said that more education and not new legislation is the answer.

Law enforcement officials made those remarks Tuesday at a forum organized by Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, and the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

It comes weeks after ProPublica reported that while the practice of dual arrests is rare nationally, around 2 percent, in Connecticut the average was around18 percent between 2011 and 2015. In some Connecticut towns the dual arrest rate was as high as 35 percent.

Dual arrests are meant to hold couples accountable when both parties are combatants in episodes of domestic violence or when it is impossible to tell who was the clear aggressor.

Unlike a lot of states, Connecticut’s domestic violence arrest law lacks a provision that allows police to limit arrests to the person determined to have been the primary aggressor.

Stating she would address “the elephant in the room,” CCADV President and Chief Executive Officer Karen Jarmoc asked: “Is part of the answer to change to a primary aggressor law?”

The answer she received from the law enforcement officials was no.

“It’s going to take some time,” Monroe Police Chief John Salvatore, who is also president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said. Salvatore said the way to lower the percentage of dual arrests in Connecticut is with more training of police officers on how to handle domestic violence incidents.

Once that training takes hold, Salvatore said, Connecticut’s dual arrest rate will “start to be more comparable with the rest of the nation.”

Salvatore and other police officials added that more departments are beginning to share statistics, and best practices, about dual arrests procedures. Those efforts, they said, should also bear fruit in the future.

Advocates for victims of domestic violence have been pushing for Connecticut to join the states that have passed primary aggressor legislation, but it has yet to happen. As a result, both the abuser and a victim are often arrested in Connecticut.

What follows is that both must then find, and pay, for a lawyer, and work through the expense and time and nuisance of the criminal system.

That often means, according to panelist Penni Micca, director of volunteer services at Interval House, that a victim becomes “fearful of being arrested and doesn’t trust making a second (phone) call.”

The ProPublica article reported that research supports the idea that primary aggressor laws lower dual arrests. A 2007 National Institute of Justice study on dual arrests found that states with primary aggressor laws had a quarter as many dual arrests as states that did not.

Connecticut is the only state among the New England and neighboring states that phas a mandatory arrest law without a primary aggressor provision.

In 2012, Connecticut’s elected officials tried once more to limit the damage done by unnecessary dual arrests. The legislature passed, and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed, a law requiring police departments to adhere to a “model family violence policy.”

The 2016 version of the policy warns officers that dual arrests are not an option if there isn’t probable cause to arrest both parties — and reminds them that self-defense is a legitimate reason for use of force.

Law enforcement officials said Tuesday that the current policy in place is sufficient, and while conceding that Connecticut has a long way to go to catch up with other states statistics on dual arrests, progress is being made.

Det. Karen O’Connor, a domestic violence trainer for the Connecticut State Police Academy, said while the state’s dual arrest statistical percentages are high, they are tracking lower – stating the dual arrest rates have gone from a high of 21 percent in 2009 to 13 percent in 2015.

“We are keeping on top of it,” O’Connor said, adding that the troops that have handled the most cases over the past few years have also seen the steepest decrease in dual arrests – another good sign she said.

Flexer said she was glad to hear that law enforcement officials were thinking about, and training officers how to better handle domestic violence calls.

“Clearly there is a lot more work to be done,” Flexer said, noting that the dual arrest numbers for 2016 should be available in July and that it would be a good time, then to see if the percentage of arrests is continuing to decline.