New procedures aim at domestic violence

Saturday, October 5, 2002

Because families and society can't deal with this problem, law enforcement must. That's where Cape Girardeau County's prosecuting attorney, Morley Swingle, comes in.

Those who read this newspaper or have met Swingle in person know that he's not satisfied with handling only the expected parts of his job. He's an accomplished writer of legislation, law journal articles and now a historical fiction novel.

His latest self-imposed homework assignment is making sure those who perpetrate crimes against their spouses or significant others get punished and rehabilitated. He's giving seminars to area law enforcement officers so they can learn what investigative techniques on their end will lead to convictions on Swingle's end.

The biggest problem in prosecuting such cases is the frequent refusal of victims to testify against their attackers. Sometimes they're afraid. Other times they've allowed themselves to be genuinely convinced that an apology is enough -- they believe the attacker has learned his or her lesson, and they want the charges dropped.

Lucky for them -- even though they may not immediately see it that way -- Swingle doesn't have to drop the charges. And to make the cases stick without his star witnesses, he has recommended some techniques for police investigators.

It's a little disconcerting to hear, but he wants police to treat domestic violence cases like homicides.

In homicide cases, the victims can't testify. So when police are gathering evidence in a domestic violence incident, they should get statements from other witnesses, including neighbors and bystanders. They should photograph the victim's visible injuries. They should photograph any injuries on the suspect consistent with a fight. And they should make a copy of the recording of the 911 call in the case.

But unlike in a homicide, they should also get the victim to make a written statement before the suspect has had a chance to convince him or her to be uncooperative. The victim should sign a medical release form so police can get records documenting the current abuse or even a pattern of abuse.

If the investigation is done thoroughly, law enforcement has a powerful weapon in a new law that makes domestic violence a felony. Even so much as a slap can be prosecuted.

But before anything can be done, someone has to know that abuse is taking place. Friends and neighbors have to get involved and make it stop.

And those in an abusive situation can call Swingle's office at 243-2430 and talk to a crime victim advocate or call the Safehouse for Women at 335-7745 or toll free (800) 341-1830.

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