NYPD policy: use traffic warrants to prod domestic assault victims

On March 5, the NYPD's chief of detectives initiated a new policy for investigators to use when responding to domestic violence calls. Recently revealed to the public, the policy requires officers to run a criminal background check, including a check for warrants on traffic violations, on both the suspect and the alleged victim -- and to arrest the victim if any warrants come up.

The main reason, a police source told the New York Post, is to dig up leverage in case the victim decides later not to press charges, as is relatively common in domestic violence situations.

"You're trying to close the case, but your complainant becomes uncooperative," the source told the Post. "Your supervisor says, 'Get her in here, and remind her that she has an open warrant,'" the source continued. "They want us to use that as leverage to force them to remain cooperative."

If the idea is that a cooperative victim wouldn't be arrested on an open traffic warrant, however, that has apparently not been communicated to all NYPD officers. According to another anonymous police source quoted by Reason.com, "You have no choice but to lock them up" if the victims does have a warrant, even if it relates to unpaid traffic tickets.

The policy has been highly controversial, even among the police, because it is likely to deter victims of domestic violence from coming forward. "We all think it is insane," a police source told the Post.

"First a woman is abused by her partner, and then she's abused by the NYPD when she turns to them for help? If we gave out knucklehead awards, this would definitely be at the front of the line," said the head of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The chair of the New York City Council's public safety committee has already asked the chief of detectives to revise the policy. "I believe that a policy that could potentially lead to the arrest of a victim of domestic violence is misguided," he said. "I ask you to reconsider immediately and issue a more targeted policy which makes it clear that the purpose of gathering this information is to better assess the situation and not to make arrests."

A spokesperson for the NYPD insists that doing criminal and traffic warrant checks on both parties is "standard practice and policy . . . to help lead them to the victims' assailants," and that arresting the victims is not required.


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