I know. I started one of the first domestic violence units in a prosecutor’s office in the nation in 1978. It was funded by the Department of Justice and because of its success it became a pilot program across the nation.
We proved that with the proper support women will cooperate with charges brought on their behalf by the people of their state. We created shelters, some in churches, we fought for new laws, brought in mental health counselors and educated police and judges. We crusaded for victims, many of them too shy or ashamed to come forward; many so beaten into submission that they blamed only themselves for abuse, many silent until they met death at their abuser’s hands.
Domestic violence laws were created to protect all domestic violence victims regardless of the victim’s address or location. Any suggestion that because Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie were not from Utah the police were precluded from making an arrest or getting involved is not only incorrect, it is dangerous. In fact, it’s contrary to Utah law.
The Utah Code 77-36-2.2 (1) (2) makes very clear that the primary duty of law enforcement officers in a domestic violence call is to protect the victim and ENFORCE THE LAW. Section (2) b reads that if a police officer has probable cause to believe there will be continued violence against the alleged victim the officer SHALL arrest and take the perpetrator into custody. There is no option. Shall means must arrest.
This is not at all unusual. Across the nation there are mandatory arrest laws that require police to separate the parties to determine who is the primary aggressor. Not the aggressor of first impression, but a deeper dive into who is the primary aggressor.
Police officers are trained to identify a victim, to look beyond first impression… who is crying, who takes responsibility for the abuse and who is fearful of speaking up. It can be much deeper than that.
Moab police were told by their dispatcher that Laundrie was seen slapping and hitting Gabby repeatedly by witnesses who took the unusual step of going out of their way to call 911. Laundrie was in possession of Gabby’s phone. Why? And why was he preventing Gabby from getting into HER own van?
The more police are reticent to perform their duties, reluctant to make arrests, and unwilling to assess who the primary aggressor is, the more women will die at the hands of an overconfident male who tells police ‘she’s got issues.’
Mandatory arrests were enacted to stop the deaths of innocent victims. Until they are enforced every battered woman is in danger.