In the past year, Denver7 has been investigating how Colorado law enforcement handles domestic violence cases, from the moment a call is made about alleged domestic violence to the moment someone is arrested (or not arrested). Investigators looked at records and rates of arrest throughout different counties in Colorado and reported back with troubling statistics.
The rates at which law enforcement carries out domestic violence arrests vary wildly. When a report is filed or a call is made to the police on the grounds of domestic violence or unrest, law enforcement are expected to record the incident and also record whether or not an arrest was made.
But the way these records have been kept has been inconsistent throughout different counties. This has led to inconsistent statistics regarding domestic violence arrests and charges.
Now, not all calls to law enforcement or reports of domestic violence will result in an arrest. But the range of how often people are arrested after a report of domestic violence is what’s troubling.
Investigations showed high rates in some counties: Boulder County Sheriff’s Office presented a 79% arrest rate on domestic calls; the Denver Police presented a 71% arrest rate; the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office presented a 68.2% arrest rate.
But other counties had significantly lower numbers: Littleton’s data suggested an arrest rate of between 27-28%. Lakewood showed a 41% arrest rate.
That’s a pretty large range of arrest rates. Worse, multiple instances of negligence in keeping records made it frustrating for investigators to collect accurate numbers.
For example, the Lakewood police told investigators that their numbers may be inaccurate because records include an optional box where officers can indicate that an arrest or report was related to domestic violence or not. Failing to check off that box when appropriate led to disproportionately low arrest rates in the county. Policies like Lakewood’s optional box existed in numerous places throughout the state, and contributed mightily to the confusing arrest rates.
As the investigation continued, more reports and stories brought additional embarrassment to law enforcement officials throughout Colorado.
In one story, investigators revealed that police in Westminster mistakenly closed a case of domestic violence regarding a woman who walked to the police station in fear for her life. After the alleged victim checked in with law enforcement, they let her know that not only were no charges filed, but the statute of limitations had expired and no charges would ever be filed in the future against her alleged abuser.
But this was completely incorrect. No charges were filed due to paperwork and communication errors. To apologize, reports showed that the Westminster police offered the victim two free movie tickets. Yikes.
Policy Changes May Be Coming
When stories like the above break, the public tends to respond by pressuring lawmakers to make changes to laws and policies to fix the problems. That is exactly what is happening now. And lawmakers are listening.
To ensure consistency and accountability throughout the state, lawmakers are proposing policy changes that will set a standard for recordkeeping. Policy changes will also focus on mistakes and warning signs that have been found throughout cases that should have ended in an arrest or a conviction. Investigations showed that mistakes and a failure to make an arrest in some domestic violence cases resulted in fatalities and murders that could have been prevented.
There have already been recent changes to the law to help prosecute domestic violence offenders. But lawmakers are hoping to crack down even harder and see higher arrest rates for alleged domestic violence.
What a Crackdown Could Mean For Alleged Abusers
If law enforcement arrives at a scene that has been called in as possible domestic violence or unrest, they will then investigate the scene. If probable cause shows that a crime may have been committed, they are mandated by law to make an arrest. Under Colorado law, you cannot be charged with domestic violence; law enforcement will instead arrest you on related charges like assault, battery, sexual abuse, and so on.
Once someone is arrested on charges related to domestic violence in Colorado, the alleged victim cannot drop the charges. The state takes over the charge, and will oversee the case as the prosecution until a ruling is made by a judge. Domestic violence charges may result in jail time, heavy fines, and other forms of penalties and rehabilitation.
If lawmakers are truly looking to crack down and generate more charges, it could push police to find harm and make arrests that they previously wouldn’t have done.
To protect your name, family, and future, it is important to work with someone who understands the processes and penalties that you will be up against.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012-2016 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.