The NYPD practice of investigating the backgrounds of domestic violence victims as well as the victims’ attackers has come under scrutiny recently, and has some domestic violence advocates calling on the department to ensure it doesn’t discourage victims from coming forward.
“[Victims] are coming here to report a crime, but then ultimately they’re scrutinized?” asked Debjati Roy, domestic violence victims’ advocate with the Brooklyn-based anti-harrassment organization Hollaback. “It’s not going to encourage them to come forward. Guaranteed.”
While she was not sounding an alarm about the NYPD policy of looking into victims’ backgrounds, she was responding to that policy being in the spotlight in recent published and online reports, such as this article in the New York Post
“[Fighting] domestic violence is a major part of law enforcement,” said 30-year veteran NYPD detective and PIX11 consultant Wally Zeins, “And it took many, many years to make it work where it is today in NYPD.”
Zeins said he wants to ensure that the recent attention placed on the NYPD practice of reviewing victims’ backgrounds doesn’t prevent victims from coming forward to report domestic abuse. “You want [a complainant to trust the police," the former sex crimes investigator told PIX11 News.
For its part, the NYPD issued a statement, "While it is standard practice and policy for detectives to investigate victims’ backgrounds to help lead them to the victims’ assailants, the NYPD – contrary to a published report -- has no “must arrest” policy that applies to domestic violence victims. In fact, the discovery of open warrants on domestic violence victims often results in their warrants being vacated."
The department stressed that it does not arrest every victim who happens to have an open warrant for their arrest, a fact that Detective Zeins wants to be emphasized to victims as well. "The name of the game," he said, "is you want people to come and cooperate with you."
However, just because victims with open warrants typically aren't arrested when they report domestic violence crimes doesn't mean they can't be arrested. For that reason, a number of victims' advocates told PIX11 News that a key to combating domestic violence is for the NYPD to strongly reassure victims that their risk of arrest is low.
"She shouldn't be scrutinized over her experience," Roy said about victims. "[Police] should focus solely on her experience with violence.”