EDWARD McLaughlin, chief inspector of the Philadelphia Police
Department, remembers how his father used to beat him and his
mother. His father broke his arm, McLaughlin says, and burned him
But Chief McLaughlin didn't become a cop to fight domestic
violence. In fact, he says, he had been an officer for 20 years
before he understood the role police could play in combatting abuse
of women and children.
"It wasn't until I got whacked over the head, figuratively, by
women's groups that I realized the importance of the problem and
the need for police involvement," says McLaughlin.
That was 10 years ago. Since then Pennsylvania has passed a law
calling for mandatory arrest in cases where police find "probable
cause" to believe someone has committed domestic violence. The
Philadelphia Police Department has done its part by establishing
domestic-violence response teams which respond to 911 calls, work
with women's groups and shelters, and help victims through the
Long before the O.J. Simpson murder case called attention to
domestic violence, some police departments around the country were
already focusing on the problem. Recently, however, support for
improving response has gained momentum. This year, 39 states have
passed laws on domestic violence.
In San Diego, homicides related to domestic violence dropped
from an average of 20 per year in 1990 and 1991 to 10 or less
annually between 1992 and 1994. In Nashville, Tenn., a city of
about 1 million people, there have been six domestic murders this
year, compared with 15 for all of last year, and about 24 per year
between 1990 and 1993.
But these are cities that have gone after the problem. "The
nation as a whole is a patchwork; some departments get it and some
don't," says Sergeant Mark Wynn of the Nashville Police Department,
who trains police departments around the country and
internationally on domestic-violence response.
"Efforts are starting to bring more and more police departments
in line," says Sergeant Wynn, who appeared at the White House last
week in a ceremony marking October as Domestic Violence Month.
"It's a matter of changing the attitudes of traditional law
enforcement. We've been burying too many women in this country."
Since the mid-1980s, legal changes have given police officers in
some states the tools they need to treat domestic violence