Domestic disputes are the most deadly calls for cops
(NEW YORK) -- Sunday morning's deadly domestic dispute call outside of Denver may not surprise police or those who study dangers to law enforcement officers.
One officer was killed in Douglas County, Colorado, and four other deputies plus two civilians were shot in the domestic disturbance at an apartment complex.
Domestic violence incidents are "the most dangerous type of call" for responding law enforcement officers, according to a study by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund published in 2016.
According to the report titled "Deadly Calls and Fatal Encounters," domestic-related incidents or "intra-family offenses" represent "the highest number of fatal types of service."
A veteran officer interviewed by The Trace said police know the dangers.
"When the radio goes off and you're being sent to a domestic [call], you automatically brace yourself," Michael LaRiviere, a veteran of the Salem, Massachusetts, police force, told The Trace. "You know you're going into something with so many moving parts."
The five-year study by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund was done in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice and looked at deaths of law enforcement officers in the line of duty. It reviewed 684 cases with a focus on those in which officers were dispatched by a call for service.
Of the 91 cases studied in which officers were killed responding to a dispatched call, 20 of them, or 22 percent, were for a domestic dispute. In all but one of these cases, the officer was killed with a firearm.
The second most common type of call resulting in an officer's death, 18 percent, was for a "disturbance," which were generally nonviolent nuisance crimes or complaints such as about drinking in public, indecent exposure or disorderly conduct, the report said.
No details are yet known about the domestic disturbance or police response in the incident Sunday morning in Douglas County, Colorado, including how many officers were dispatched or when they were shot.
The study of officer deaths in response to dispatched calls looked at "common themes to better understand the officer response and to identify cues to increase awareness among officers about the dangers posed in handling Domestic Dispute calls," the report said. It found that in seven, or 35 percent, of the domestic call responses, only one officer was on the scene of the call at the time of the shooting.
Of these seven cases, four were instances when only one officer was dispatched. But in the other three cases, multiple officers were sent to the scene but the first officer to arrive didn't wait for backup before contacting the subject of the call.
"The necessity of having three or more officers at a domestic situation to adequately separate parties, monitor family members and, if necessary, physically restrain and arrest a suspect is apparent," the report said.
It added that "the research team clearly understands the necessity in some circumstances for officers to act independently in order to immediately address a threat or to aid a person in imminent danger." But it said in none of the cases studied were officers required to act immediately in response to a threat or to help someone in danger. It also said responding officers should be made aware of any call history relating to the suspect and of any information about prior threats or weapons charges.
The study recommended that dispatchers are aware of the dangers posed by domestic calls including seemingly routine calls such as to serve a protection order or in response to a child-custody dispute.
LaRiviere, the police veteran in Massachusetts, told The Trace that circumstances in a domestic call can change instantaneously where the "perpetrator can go from zero to 100 miles an hour in the flick of a switch."
"The most dangerous time, the time when we're getting killed the most often, is in the approach," LaRiviere said. "It's the ambush."
The nature of domestic violence makes those calls more complicated, he said.
"Domestic violence is about one person's desire to control another," LaRiviere said. "The police officer who arrives at the scene is taking away some of that control."
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