By Lonsway, Kim; Harrington, Penny
Law & Order , Vol. 51, No. 10
Law enforcement agencies in the United States are faced with the challenge of preventing and responding to cases of domestic violence perpetrated by their own employees, including officers. Several research studies suggest that officers may be more likely to perpetrate domestic violence than others in the general population. Unfortunately, there are many dynamics of domestic violence that are exacerbated when the abuser is an officer.
The Lautenberg Act
In September of 1996 a federal law was passed that prohibits individuals-including officers- from owning or using a firearm if they have been convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense (18 U.S.C. [sec] 925). This bill, widely referred to as the Lautenberg Act, was passed as an amendment to the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1996. By modifying the Gun Control Act of 1968, the Lautenberg Act expanded existing federal law that only barred gun ownership from those convicted of a felony offense to include those convicted of a qualifying misdemeanor domestic violence offense.
The offense does not need to be designated as domestic violence within state law, but is covered under the Lautenberg Act if it involves the use or attempted use of physical force or threat with a deadly weapon, and is committed against a current or former spouse, a past or present cohabiting partner, a person with whom the perpetrator has a child in common, a person with whom the officer has or has had a dating relationship.
Individuals with a felony or misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence are ineligible to own firearms or ammunition even if the offense occurred before the law was enacted. A section of the 1994 Crime Bill also prohibits individuals from possessing a firearm while a protective order, restraining order, or harassment order is in effect (18 U.S.C. [sec] 925). Although police and military personnel are only allowed to retain their government-issued firearm while on duty, some departments consider their officers to be on duty at all times and they would therefore not be required to relinquish their service weapon.
Unfortunately, there is typically no procedure in place to ensure that the courts notify police departments that a court order is in effect against an officer. There is also some confusion regarding which types of protective and restraining orders are included. To clarify the issue, the following description of qualifying orders is provided in the recently updated version of the IACP Model Policy.
'"Protection order' refers to any injunction or other order issued by a court, including criminal or civil orders of protection, regardless of form, content, length, layout, or name (such as stay away, restraining, criminal, and emergency or temporary protection orders or injunctions), issued for the purpose of preventing the following... Violent or threatening acts against another person, Stalking or harassment of another person, Contact or communication with another person and Physical proximity to another person."
There is also some confusion among police executives regarding that weapons may be seized from an officer when such a qualifying order is in effect. Obviously, the department must be in compliance with federal law, state law and local ordinances with respect to weapons seizure. However, the safety of the victim must be paramount in such a situation and "a department may choose to be more restrictive than federal law by prohibiting officers from possessing service weapons when subject to protective orders or under criminal and/or administrative investigations."
The IACP Model Policy
In 1999, the International Association for Chiefs of Police (IACP) released through the National Law Enforcement Policy Center a Model Policy and supporting Concepts and Issues Paper outlining procedures for handling cases of domestic violence perpetrated by police employees. The IACP Model Policy has been distributed widely since its release in April of 1999. …