Mandatory arrest? Police response to domestic violence victims

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Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore lawsuits involving police response to domestic violence incidents. Focusing on the specific legal remedy of due process under Section 1983, the paper seeks to examine federal case law dealing with police response to domestic violence victims. The paper also aims to discuss differences in procedural and substantive due process violations, highlighting circumstances under which the police may be held liable for improper response to domestic violence incidents. Design/methodology/approach: This paper qualitatively examines relevant Section 1983 federal court decisions (n = 27 as of May, 2008) identified through a query of Lexis Nexis for the last ten years (before and after Castle Rock) dealing with lawsuits arising from domestic abuse investigations. Findings: The preponderance of cases have resulted in dismissals of summary judgments filed against police officers and agencies for allegations that the police violated plaintiffs' due process rights. The recent Supreme Court decision in Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales has prevented plaintiffs from seeking relief under procedural due process; however, domestic abuse victims have been successful to some extent using substantive due process as a basis for civil action. Plaintiffs have prevailed in federal courts alleging that the police acted with deliberate indifference or conscious disregard for victims' civil rights. Research limitations/implications: The paper is limited to federal court decisions involving due process violations and does not account for factors resulting in state tort negligence lawsuits filed against the police. Moreover, federal courts will likely continue to use substantive due process as a Section 1983 remedy for domestic violence victims as research and awareness on domestic violence policy evolves. Practical implications: The paper suggests that police agencies should take note of recent court decisions applicable to their jurisdictions as domestic violence enforcement policy remains fragmented. Agencies should ensure that police dispatcher 911 call classification policies are current and that training guidelines comport with these policies. Originality/value: Given the prevalence of domestic violence in the USA, police agencies should expect increases in the number of lawsuits filed against the police for violations of substantive due process. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

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