November 12, 2013
by Steve Walsh
Lakeshore Public Radio
Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Indiana University Northwest Dr. Joseph Ferrandino reviewed over over 3,500 domestic violence calls in Gary Indiana and found few arrests and even fewer prosecutions. After interviewing nine veteran officers from throughout Northwest Indiana, Ferrandino believes the problem may be Indiana’s domestic battery, which is more narrowly crafted than surrounding states.
“Very few of these officers had ever been to court on a domestic battery case in all their years,” he said. “They have a combined 83 years of policing between them. And it’s one of those things that’s just not handled the way it is in many other places.”
The way the law is written, the person committing the crime must be a spouse. They have to be living as a spouse or have a child in common, he said.
“In one city we looked at, 75 percent of the calls do not meet the state statute,” he said.
Lisa Wein , the executive director of Haven House, a shelter in Hammond and a court appointed advocate in Lake County, said she sees victims who are often unwilling to leave their abuser, even after several run-ins with police. Until she started reviewing the police calls, Wein thought the low number of arrests had more to do with police officers.
“Until I started looking at it, I just assumed they didn’t want to do the paperwork,” She said. “When I started looking at it closer, I had to correct myself. It was not a matter of the person not wanting to do their job. It was the limitations of the law.”
So many of the cases involve other people living in the same household — brothers, grandparents, aunts and uncles – rather than a spouse, Wein said.
“I know darn well there needs to be some kind of legal action but my hands are tied. Because of, this is not the intimate partner,” she said.
Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter said cases aren’t slipping through the cracks. Victims will often accept a plea bargain, rather than have the spouse go to jail, especially if the victim is not ready to leave.
In cases where it applies, Carter said prosecutors charge someone with standard battery. Though, he believes Indiana Prosecutors Association should advocate for a broader definition of domestic battery, as the state looks at revising the criminal code.
Other states make it easier to arrest someone at the scene or set up special courts to handle cases of domestic violence. Ultimately, it may be up to lawmakers to decide whether to broaden Indiana’s domestic battery law, Ferrandino said.