Deciding whether to involve the police or to seek protection from the courts can be difficult. There are many risks:
- That the police or the courts won't treat the violence seriously
- That they will blame you or not believe you
- That your partner will attempt to retaliate against you
- That you won't get what you need because you don't know your rights
The legal system is often intimidating and confusing, and using the legal system will not guarantee your safety. Still, the legal system has much to offer in providing protection. Knowing what is available and what your rights are is an important part of planning for your safety.
What can the police do for me?
In 1986, Missouri passed the Adult Abuse Law, which requires police departments to respond to domestic violence as the serious crime that it is. These "pro arrest" provisions were designed to increase the protection provided to victims of domestic violence. You have the right to expect that if the police are called, they will do what the law says they should do. But, as with every decision about your safety, you are the best judge of whether involving the police is the best thing to do in your situation.
If you call the police
If you call the police, they must come to investigate your situation. In order for the police to make a decision to arrest, they need to find probable cause that a crime was committed. That means that they must have enough evidence to believe that your partner committed a crime by harming or threatening you. Among other things, evidence includes:
- Visible harm or injury to you or your children such as cuts, bruises, swelling or torn clothes
- Damage to personal property such as furniture, walls, windows, car or signs of a break-in
- Messages (either on your answering machine or written) threatening you or apologizing for having hurt or scared you
- Statements from you, your neighbors, children, family members or anyone else who saw or heard what happened
The police are to respond immediately to a 911 call when:
- The caller indicates violence is imminent or in progress
- An Order of Protection is in effect, and is being violated
- The caller indicates that incidents of domestic violence previously occurred between the parties
The police should arrive and conduct an on-scene investigation. Police are to interview all parties separately and collect evidence to establish probable cause. If there is probable cause to believe a domestic violence assault has been committed, the police officer is to arrest the person identified to be the primary aggressor. If called to the same address within a 12-hour period, the police officer is required to make an arrest if there is probable cause to believe the same offender has committed a law violation against the same or another family member. An offender can be held in jail up to 20 hours before an arrest warrant is issued or the person is released.
If you aren't satisfied with the way the police are handling the situation, ask to talk to a supervisor. If you need assistance, call a domestic violence program and ask them for help in dealing with the police.