HARTFORD, CT — The Senate unanimously passed legislation Tuesday that would require police officers to determine the primary aggressor when they respond to a domestic violence call.
Connecticut police officers arrest both parties involved in a domestic violence incident 20 percent of the time, according to a report by the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence. That’s more than double the national average and it means that the victim is being arrested along with the abuser.
Sen. Mae Flexer, a Killingly Democrat who championed the legislation, said the primary aggressor language is “national best practice.”
She said it’s the best way for law enforcement to protect the victim and themselves.
“This legislation will empower more victims to become survivors,” Flexer said.
She said they don’t want domestic violence victims to be afraid to call police because they will also be arrested if they do.
Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said this legislation was a bipartisan effort and will make Connecticut’s domestic violence laws better.
He said they know there are hundreds of law enforcement officers who need to be trained, but they understand that.
“We don’t want to create a situation where law enforcement is not physically capable of complying with the law,” Kissel said. “But this will create far less victimization and far more stable families.”
Sen. Kevin Witkos, a Canton Republican and former police officer, said this is good legislation because it empowers police officers, too.
Currently, the law essentially requires police to make an arrest in cases of domestic violence if they find sufficient evidence that an incident occurred. They are not authorized to make a judgment call about which party is the aggressor or victim. Police have to arrest the person or persons believed to have committed the violence and charge them with the applicable crime. They are required to do this regardless of whether the victim wishes to press charges.
Witkos said the law passed in 1987 took away an officer’s discretion.
While Witkos supported the legislation he also expressed concerns about the effective dates in the legislation.
The bill expands certain police and state’s attorneys’ training programs to include training on the factors for determining a primary aggressor by Jan. 1, 2019.
Witkos said it may take longer than Jan. 1, 2019 to get everyone trained, but he doesn’t believe that it’s an impediment to accomplishing the intent of the legislation.
The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association has not been enthusiastic about the legislation and has been trying to create doubts about implementation, while supporting the underlying bill.
Lobbyists for the police chiefs emailed members of the Judiciary Committee last week to warn them that not all police officers can be trained before Jan. 1, 2019.
“The public will expect that the officers are trained once the bill takes effect, and that is simply not the case,” Jean Cronin, a lobbyist for the police chiefs, wrote in an email last week. “We do not want officers or towns getting sued because they don’t know the rules.”
Karen Jarmoc, CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said a January start date is not outside of the norm.
In 2017, 17 of the 40 public acts impacting law enforcement were related to their daily activities, according to Jarmoc. There was also no additional appropriation needed for the training requirements in those public acts.
She said the Police Officers Standards and Training Council has 92 domestic violence certified instructors, who are capable of training police officers. She doesn’t anticipate there’s any additional funds needed to implement this training.