Domestic violence is a crime that not only impacts the victim but society as well. Domestic violence affects all races and religions and crosses all socioeconomic lines. As a society, we have a moral obligation to protect and offer assistance to all victims of domestic violence.
Domestic violence calls are not uncommon for New Jersey law enforcement officers. In fact, they are often some of the most dangerous calls we respond to. According to the most recent domestic violence report published by the New Jersey State Police, 61,659 incidents of domestic violence were reported to New Jersey law enforcement agencies in 2015.
Our legislature has taken a strong stance against domestic violence offenders and continually evaluates and updates the domestic violence laws of our state. These laws not only offer much-needed relief to victims, but they also offer hope. When enacting the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991, the New Jersey legislature declared:
It is the intent of the Legislature to stress that the primary duty of a law enforcement officer when responding to a domestic violence call is to enforce the laws allegedly violated and to protect the victim. Further, it is the responsibility of the courts to protect victims of violence that occurs in a family or family-like setting by providing access to both emergent and long-term civil and criminal remedies and sanctions, and by ordering those remedies and sanctions that are available to assure the safety of the victims and the public. To that end, the Legislature encourages the training of all police and judicial personnel in the procedures and enforcement of this act, and about the social and psychological context in which domestic violence occurs; and it further encourages the broad application of the remedies available under this act in the civil and criminal courts of this State. It is further intended that the official response to domestic violence shall communicate the attitude that violent behavior will not be excused or tolerated, and shall make clear the fact that the existing criminal laws and civil remedies created under this act will be enforced without regard to the fact that the violence grows out of a domestic situation.
When reading the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991, it is clear that the lawmakers expect domestic violence incidents to be vigorously investigated and, when applicable, referred to the courts to prosecute the offender and to obtain relief for the victim. To that end, officers must stay current with changes in the domestic violence laws so they can properly carry out their duties. Surprisingly, many officers are unfamiliar with the most recent changes to our state’s domestic violence laws.
In August 2015, the list of domestic violence offenses was expanded to include criminal coercion, robbery and contempt of a domestic violence order that constitutes a crime or disorderly persons offense. Then in December 2016, cyber-harassment was included.
In addition to amendments the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991, the assault statute also saw a few changes to address domestic violence. On Aug. 8, 2015, the assault statute was amended to include that any domestic violence offender who “attempts to cause significant bodily injury or causes significant bodily injury purposely or knowingly or, under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, recklessly causes significant bodily injury to a victim of domestic violence” would be guilty of a third-degree crime. However, under this amendment, the presumption of no jail time does not apply. Any offender found guilty would face a mandatory term of imprisonment.
The final and most recent change to our domestic violence laws went into effect in November 2017. This most recent amendment to the assault statute addresses a situation in which a domestic violence offender strangles a victim of domestic violence. The statute now states that any domestic violence offender who “knowingly or, under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, recklessly obstructs the breathing or blood circulation of a victim of domestic violence, by applying pressure on the throat or neck or blocking the nose or mouth of such person, thereby causing or attempting to cause bodily injury” would be guilty of a third-degree crime. Once again, the presumption of no jail time would not apply.
An officer’s failure to stay current on domestic violence laws can not only cause further harm to domestic violence victims, but it can also expose the officer and the corresponding agency to civil liability. Officers must take a proactive approach to stay current and use all resources at their disposal. They should actively participate during their mandatory annual domestic violence training and seek clarification on any concerns they may have. Officers should also seek out training in others areas such as arrest, search and seizure, legal updates and other complex areas. As professionals, we are expected to stay current in all aspects of our career.
Allen Bloodgood joined the Woodbridge Township Police Department in 1994. He served in the U.S. Air Force during Operation Desert Storm. He is a graduate of New Jersey City University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and he holds a Master’s degree from Seton Hall University. He is the primary instructor for the J. Harris Academy of Promotional Testing in the areas of arrest, search and seizure, Title 2C, Title 2A, court rules and other legal issues.