HARTFORD, CT — Things got heated Friday when Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane suggested they have language he wasn’t ready to share with lawmakers regarding a proposal that would change how police respond to domestic violence calls.
“I’m going to submit some language on Monday,” Kane told the Judiciary Committee.
He said he’s not opposing SB 466, a bill that would change who is arrested during intimate partner domestic violence events. He just isn’t completely comfortable with the “dominate aggressor” language proposed by anti-domestic violence groups.
“Maybe CCADV will like it, maybe they won’t,” Kane said of the new language.
Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, asked whether Kane had vetted the language with any of the groups like the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence who represent the victims.
“Not yet,” Kane said.
He said they will give it to the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence on Monday.
“We all need to sit down and discuss this,” Kane said.
Flexer said the group has been trying to sit down with police and prosecutors for a long time.
The Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence found that 87 of Connecticut’s 106 law enforcement entities have a dual arrest rate that is more than double national benchmark.
Karen Jarmoc, executive director of CCADV, said 20 percent is more than twice the national average of 7.3 percent. Dual arrests are where both the abuser and the victim are arrested.
Flexer said she’s spent a lot of time on the issue, too, and as far as she can see the only reason Connecticut’s dual arrest rate is higher is because “we don’t have this dominant aggressor language.”
“There are 27 other states that have dominant aggressor language. Do you think that those other 27 states are wrong?” Flexer asked Kane.
“I didn’t say they’re wrong. I didn’t say they’re right either,” Kane said.
He said he would like everyone to withhold their judgment until they submit the language.
“I am suspicious of language that was only discussed with certain folks,” Flexer said.
The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, headed by Groton Police Chief L.J. Fusaro, said they are currently opposed to the language but are willing to work with proponents to improve the legislation.
Fusaro told the Judiciary Committee that the legislation, as written, would have “significant legal, procedural and financial impacts to police officers throughout the state.”
The police are looking to give prosecutors more power to make decisions in these situations and take the burden off the police. That’s because “in matters of domestic violence . . . parties are overcome with emotion, and facts may not be clearly established by investigators during the heated environment they are initially confronted with,” Fusaro said.
He said they are “fearful that officers may default to making an arrest, which after review, could expose them and their department to subsequent civil litigation.”
They also questioned the data.
“While we appreciate the assertion that it appears Connecticut has higher rates of dual arrest in domestic violence incidents, what is not clear is the difference between incidents where persons are not in an intimate relationship, but rather co-habituating for other reasons,” Fusaro said. “We also would like to have greater fidelity on the states with which Connecticut is compared, and know if any statutory language exists that is similar to the arrest requirement we have in Connecticut.”
Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said proponents held a press conference a month ago. He said they should have had the language changes they want to see submitted before Friday’s public hearing.
“We’re working under tight time constraints,” Kissel said.
He said he’s not getting the buy-in he fully expects from law enforcement. He pointed out the numbers are the numbers and there’s no reason to cast doubt on the numbers submitted by proponents of the legislation.
“It doesn’t strike me as astronomically difficult in a domestic violence situation,” to give law enforcement the ability to decide “who is the dominant aggressor,” Kissel said.
As police are given the use of deadly force and have to make decisions about when to use it, Kissel said he thinks they should be able to figure out who is the dominant aggressor and who is not.
Fusaro said they agree they don’t want their officers just going in and arresting everybody and letting the court settle it, adding that there are some things in the language that could require a little more refinement and would be beneficial to all the parties involved.
He said he thinks they will be able to reach a compromise, but they can’t support the language as it’s written.
Kissel said it seems to him they need to get there sooner rather than later.
“We want to move this through the process this year,” Kissel said.