COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Columbus police officers reported more than 1,500 cases of domestic violence since the beginning of January.
Although the number of reports — 1,537 — has remained stagnant compared to the same period in 2021 (1,566 cases), Columbus Division of Police spokesperson Sgt. James Fuqua said domestic violence is one of the most underreported crimes – and one of the most dangerous to which law enforcement responds.
“The offender does not want us there because they have committed the act of domestic violence – they know we are required to take them to jail for that,” Fuqua said. “Emotions and feelings are very high at the moment.”
While Fuqua said a perpetrator could become more violent or threatening toward a victim when police are called to a scene, he and domestic violence organizations in Columbus encouraged those at risk – or bystanders who perceive someone is at risk – to call law enforcement.
Lillian Howard, director of clinical and supportive services for domestic violence support agency Lutheran Support Services of Central Ohio (LSS Choices), said if someone is at imminent risk of being abused or killed, law enforcement officers are trained to respond to that threat.
“A lot of times, we have that attitude of not wanting to get involved or say anything,” Howard said. “If you see something, say something. You heard something that was not going or was not safe – somebody needs to take action.”
Once a 911 call is made reporting officers to a potential case of domestic violence, Fuqua said officers rely heavily on CPD dispatchers to understand what they might encounter upon arrival at a scene.
“Communications dispatchers are an absolute lifeline into any domestic violence calls,” Fuqua said. “Without them, we can’t be successful with a game plan going in. They’re a lifeline into gathering information when we get there – are there weapons involved, guns, knives?”
Responding officers will arrive at the scene cautiously, Fuqua said, and attempt to listen for any signs of foul play or danger inside a home or building.
If a victim or someone else in the residence gives police permission to enter – or it’s been determined that an imminent threat exists – Fuqua said officers then try to determine who is acting as the perpetrator.
“Depending on the nature of how bad it is, if we can determine the primary physical aggressor, we immediately remove the offender from the location and charge them with domestic violence,” he said.
Officers will also speak with the alleged victim or survivor and conduct what’s called a lethality assessment program, a series of questions in which police seek to determine the level of threat that’s presented against a victim, Howard said.
Based on that information, Howard said law enforcement will determine what resources will best serve the victim, which often results in a referral to domestic violence organizations like LSS Choices.
In cases where a neighbor or bystander calls the police about a suspected domestic violence case, Fuqua said it’s not always guaranteed that police will force entry into the residence.
Without legal authority to enter someone’s home, and in the absence of clear signs of abuse, he said officers would be violating a person’s Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure if they force entry into a building.
“If there’s not enough info at the time, yes, we will leave,” Fuqua said. “But if there’s enough info that there’s an imminent threat or danger of the person inside, we will force entry into the structure to safely get that person out.”
Howard said it’s common for victims or survivors to not seek help from law enforcement, as they often rely on a perpetrator for their survival. Those who don’t call the police or seek help from a domestic violence organization, however, are more likely to be killed by a perpetrator, she said.
“In some cases, they don’t call because they are also dependent many times on the abuser for their survival,” she said. “They may be an individual who has kids and is not working, so they’re dependent on the abuser to pay rent, buy groceries, pay the mortgage.”
For neighbors, family members, or other bystanders suspicious of potential domestic violence, Howard encouraged them to pass on, if possible, resources about domestic violence support services in the area.
While it can be challenging to alert a victim or survivor to resources without a perpetrator finding out, Howard said delivering information in small, easily concealable objects – like a business card – is the best bet.
“If you are aware of domestic violence going on in a relationship, letting the person know that it isn’t their fault and they didn’t cause this, and letting them know that there are resources out there,” she said.
Contact LSS Choices confidential, 24-hour crisis hotline at 614-224-4663.