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Friday, January 20, 2012

Proposed arrest warrant requirement opposed

CONCORD – Nashua Police Detective John Yurcak said making police get a warrant before arrests for domestic violence and other crimes would “create a nightmare” for law enforcement.

Police executives and anti-domestic violence advocates spanning the state turned out in force to oppose Fremont Republican Rep. Dan Itse’s legislation (HB 1581) to make severe restrictions on law enforcement’s rights to arrest.

Itse didn’t attend the hearing because of an illness in the family.

What he missed was nearly 90 minutes of negative testimony before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee that heard no positive comment on it.

In a nutshell, the measure would require a warrant be obtained or a crime committed in the presence of a police officer for someone to be arrested for domestic violence, violating a restraining order or any felony when police have “reasonable ground” to believe one occurred.

Police officers could not enter anyone’s residence without witnessing a crime being committed inside.

Anyone who is found to have made an unlawful arrest would be liable for all “legal and incidental” costs borne by the person who was apprehended.

Yurcak said he’d be unable to arrest someone for an assault during a local bar fight with 20 witnesses until he first went back to the police station and obtained a warrant.

“I would have to wait around for that person to commit another crime in my presence,” Yurcak said.

Retired Henniker Police Chief Timothy Russell is the state coordinator for a domestic violence assessment program in Attorney General Michael Delaney’s office.

In Russell’s mind, this legislation would take the state back to 40 years ago when there were exceptions to the legal right to arrest without a warrant.

Russell insisted this would be devastating to the battle against domestic violence as police today can arrest someone without a warrant if there is probable cause a crime occurred within the past 12 hours.

“During those times in the ’70s we would know, beyond all doubt who in the household had inflicted these injuries and caused this damage,” Russell said. “However, because we as police officers had not witnessed these crimes and they were not committed in our presence, we could not arrest the defendant at the scene of these crimes without a warrant.”

Over the past five years, 45 percent of the homicides in New Hampshire were related to domestic violence. And Russell noted most protective orders for domestic violence are violated, and it is soon after the order is issued that the victim is the in gravest danger.

“The reason for this is simple. Domestic violence is about power and control; it is not about violence or verbal abuse,” Russell explained. “The violence and verbal abuse is just a means to an end and that end is to completely and totally possess power and control over the victim of these crimes.”

Donna Raycraft is executive director of the Rape and Domestic Violence Crisis Center in Concord that served 1,649 clients. Twenty percent of those clients got protective orders against their abusers.

“Domestic violence in particular is still an extremely hidden crime and as a result, many people do not actually witness the abuse taking place between intimate partners,” Raycraft said.

New Hampshire Legal Assistance lawyer Sarah Mattson said the bill would discourage victims from calling police for fear they couldn’t arrest the abuser as law enforcement did not witness the attack.

“The need for this work is huge; we target our resources at the case where the victim’s needs are at the greatest risk,” Mattson said. “We need a wide variety of tools in order to respond to domestic violence in the community.”

State Police Sgt. Jill Rockey heads a family services section in the Major Crimes Unit created because of the increase in cases of domestic violence.

The current law also protects police since domestic violence incidents make up the greatest number of law enforcement deaths on the job.

“If you require officers to leave that scene and then come back, that allows the offender to resist arrest and fortify the residence,” Rockey explained. “I don’t think law enforcement would ever be able to make an arrest unless it occurred in someone’s presence.

“I am certainly not standing in someone’s living or bedroom waiting for a domestic to occur.”

State Police Director Robert Quinn said a few instances of wrongful arrest should not prompt this reform that he said could do so much harm.

“One can always cite a few individual cases where the law went awry,” Quinn summed up. “Bad cases make bad law and this not the time to pass a hastily-conceived bill like this.”

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com. Also check out Kevin Landrigan (@KLandrigan) on Twitter and don’t forget The Telegraph’s new, interactive live feed at www.nashuatelegraph.com/topics/livefeed.