Posted at: 11/05/2012 9:56 AM
MILWAUKEE (AP) - No one in Wisconsin has authority to ensure police departments are responding to domestic violence cases as they should, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Sunday.
State statutes say local police must arrest domestic violence suspects, even if an alleged victim doesn't cooperate. But the Journal Sentinel reported (http://bit.ly/SJg3je) there is no guarantee local police departments will follow through, because there is no oversight.
The newspaper investigation came after a man with previous run-ins with the law killed his wife and two other women at a Brookfield spa last month before killing himself. The Brown Deer Police Department has been under fire because it did not arrest Radcliffe Haughton during domestic violence incidents in January 2011 and just weeks before the shooting.
"If there's no arrest, you're enabling behavior. This individual is only becoming more emboldened by our lack of responding appropriately," said David R. Thomas, program administrator for domestic violence education at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Wisconsin is among 21 states with a mandatory arrest law. Wisconsin also requires that law enforcement agencies have written policies for responding to domestic violence calls. But local departments are not required to submit their policies to any state agency for review, and it's unclear how many departments actually have them.
The Journal Sentinel filed a public records request for Brown Deer's domestic violence policy on Oct. 23, but the department has not yet released it.
Wisconsin leaders say they will examine domestic violence laws when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
In January 2011, officers saw Haughton point what appeared to be a rifle at his wife. He refused to surrender, and a supervisor instructed officers to leave the scene after a 90-minute standoff.
Police Chief Steven Rinzel recently defended his department's handling of that incident, saying Zina Haughton was not cooperative. The chief said officers left because she told them her husband was alone and was not armed, and officers were not sure they saw a gun.
"Let me get this right. They are on a call of domestic violence, they believe they saw a gun and they didn't arrest him?" said Mark Wynn, a retired Nashville Police Department lieutenant and a domestic violence expert. "That is the most unusual thing I have ever heard of."
On Oct. 2, police responded to a 911 call from Zina Haughton, who was at a gas station barefoot with a bruised face and a torn shirt. Officers saw Radcliffe Haughton in the couple's house, but he didn't answer the door and they left.
Overall, police were called to the Haughton home nearly two dozen times in 11 years and never made an arrest. At least seven calls were to investigate domestic violence. Brown Deer police did arrest Haughton once - at the request of Brookfield police after he slashed his wife's tires last month.
Brown Deer Village Manager Russell Van Gompel has hired an independent expert to investigate police interactions with the Haughton family.
Some experts say Wisconsin should consider a policy used by Washington state, which requires officers to file a report on every call involving a domestic dispute of any kind, even if an arrest isn't necessary. It helps police build a history, making it easier to convict offenders, said Sarah Buel, a professor at Arizona State University.
Some experts say Wisconsin should also look to Minnesota, where prosecutors at trial can enter evidence showing a history of abuse, even if the police were not involved.
"Minnesota has recognized, in a criminal case involving domestic violence, there should be information about the relationship between the victim and perpetrator," said Milwaukee County Deputy District Attorney Patrick Kenney. "There should be a broader context provided to the court, and the jury should be able to hear that."
Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com
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