Whenever I tell someone that the National Law Enforcement Museum is currently developing domestic violence prevention programs, their initial reaction is one of enthusiasm. Frequently, however, a look of wonder soon overshadows their face: “That sounds great,” they reply, “but why domestic violence? Why is it important for the National Law Enforcement Museum to focus on domestic violence prevention?”
Each year, an estimated 1.3 million women will be physically assaulted by an intimate partner according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. This fact alone demonstrates the magnitude of the public safety problem that domestic violence (DV) presents for law enforcement. And every day, officers play a pivotal role in trying to manage it. As noted in a Department of Justice-funded report (p. 12), officers are often the first contact for violence-prone families, provide a “free” service, in the sense that the costs are not immediately apparent, and intervene as visible authority figures. The same report quoted the finding of Buzawa & Buzawa that in such cases, the police are “likely to be the only public agency in a position to provide rapid assistance on a 24-hour basis.” What many people do not realize, however, is that DV takes a heavy toll on the nation’s law enforcement community as well.
DV calls are among the most dangerous calls that law enforcement officers respond to. The situations can be extremely volatile since the individuals involved are often emotionally charged, and weapons may be involved. Since 1855, 663 officers have lost their lives while responding to domestic disturbance calls in the United States, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Far more officers are assaulted during domestic disturbance calls than during any other circumstance. In 2007, 32 percent of the 59,201 assaults on police officers occurred during domestic disturbance calls, according to the FBI. The next highest category, “attempting other arrests,” resulted in only 15 percent of total assaults against officers. And these statistics say nothing of the vicarious trauma that may be experienced by the responding officers—those negative changes that can happen to humanitarian workers over time as they witness other people’s suffering and need.
In this light, it is easy to understand why DV has been and will remain a critical issue for American law enforcement. And since part of the NLEM’s mission is to tell their story and contribute to a safer society, there is a clear rationale for the Museum to be involved in developing DV prevention programs. Now, the obvious question arises: what DV prevention programs are being developed by the Museum? More to come on that in Part II.