While Minnesota law dictates how law enforcement agencies handle incidents of domestic violence among the citizenry, Hastings' Police Department is among a handful that have taken their policies one step further, all the way into the homes and haunts of police officers and high-profile individuals.
The department, led by Chief Paul Schnell, last October instituted a zero- tolerance policy for officer-perpetrated domestic violence, aimed not only at officers who live or work in the city, but also at elected officials and "anybody who has juice," Schnell said. The policy is modeled after guidelines issued by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Schnell was quick to point out that the policy does not mean that domestic violence is rampant among the 30 sworn officers and five staff people who work at the Hastings Police Department. In fact, there hasn't been an incident.
"In spite of the fact that there may be police officers and others who say 'there's not a need for this, all you're doing is making a better mousetrap to catch cops,' what good leadership demands is that we're being as highly proactive as we can to be in front of this stuff, not behind it.
"It's hard to talk about the fact that in our profession there are people who are struggling and in trouble. Yet leadership demands that given the stress that our officers are under, given the training that our officers undergo, given the kinds of really horrible things that police officers are getting exposed to in big communities and in small, that can't not have an impact. Leadership demands that we recognize that and put things in place to protect our officers, to protect our community and to protect our officers' families."
The policy lays out the steps an officer is required to follow when he or she responds to a domestic call at a fellow officer's home. Among them: A supervisor, or the highest ranking officer available, is called to the scene. The suspect officer's gun and badge are taken, and he or she is arrested and taken to jail.
While steps like that might seem like common sense, incidents around the country illustrate that they haven't always been followed.
After threats, two deaths
One of most heinous, whose repercussions still reverberate nationwide, happened in 2003 in Washington state, when Tacoma Police Chief David Brame shot and killed his wife, Crystal, and then himself in front of their two children. Crystal Brame had first called 911 in 1996 after her husband threatened her and their children with his gun. Officers who responded simply forwarded their reports to the Tacoma Police Department, where Brame was then a sergeant.
Myriad other incidents, fatal and not, are chronicled on a Facebook page called the Police-Officer Involved Domestic Violence Network.
It's generally accepted that law enforcement families experience domestic abuse and alcohol abuse at a higher rate than the general population. Although definitive studies are difficult to come by, a research paper put together by the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Center for Women and Policing reported that at least 40 percent of police families are involved in domestic violence, as opposed to an estimated 10 percent of other households. Another paper from the University of South Florida put those numbers at 28 percent and 16 percent, respectively.
The Red Wing, Moorhead, Duluth and St. Paul police departments and the Mille Lacs County Sheriff's Office are among the law enforcement agencies in Minnesota communities that have instituted zero-tolerance domestic abuse policies.
Still, there are naysayers.
"I'm sure if we were to look across the United States, I'm reasonably sure we would be able to locate a banker, a butcher and a candlestick maker somewhere who have all been given a chance and misdeeds occur," said Jim Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs' Association. "In Minnesota, we have tried hard to make domestic abuse laws apply to everyone.
"Zero tolerance is sort of a catchy phrase. I always assumed that the laws were written and the officers were to enforce those and the prosecution was to determine if the allegations and facts warranted prosecution and the court was to determine guilt or innocence. It seems to be if we're politically correct and go to zero tolerance, maybe we convict and skip everything else in between," Franklin said.
Schnell, however, said the policy was adopted to let the public know that police officers will be held to the same standard.
"We have to acknowledge that police officers, by virtue of their role, have considerable levels of authority," he said. "They are trained in the tactics of power and control. They carry a gun. Those are the reasons we decided to enact this policy."
Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284