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How Will Criminal Background Checks Affect Domestic Violence Victims?

Many victims of domestic violence are reluctant to report the abuse, especially because the alleged abuser is usually a family member or loved one. But when a woman does decide to report a domestic violence incident to the police, she expects to get protection from her abuser. However, a woman reporting a domestic violence incident to the New York Police Department may get something she did not bargain for — an arrest.

According to the New York Post, a new directive from the NYPD requires that police officers run criminal checks on both the alleged abuser and the victim. The New York Post reported that a March 5, 2013 memo from the Chief of Detectives Phil Pulaski directed officers to review the following for both parties:

  • Open warrants
  • Histories of making complaints
  • Driving records

And if either party has a warrant — even for a minor offense — the officer has no choice but to arrest him or her, even if that person was the victim. According to a police source, even if the officer decided to take pity on a victim, he or she would feel pressure to make the arrest to avoid getting in trouble.

What kind of effect will this policy have on domestic violence victims? Criminal defense attorney Joseph Tacopina believes the NYPD’s policy will have a “massive chilling effect” on victims, especially those who are reluctant to call the police to report abuse by a husband or boyfriend. Tacopina added, “The majority of domestic-violence cases go unreported. This is just going to increase this percentage.”

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