Probation Officers Play a Critical Role in Recognizing Domestic Violence
By Leischen Stelter, editor of In Public Safety
Probation and parole officers are trained to monitor offenders to make sure they’re fulfilling the terms of their release and not committing other crimes. But what happens when an officer suspects a supervisee is actually the victim of a crime?
American Military University criminal justice professor, Ron Wallace, partnered with the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) to create a free training program that teaches officers how to identify and respond to situations of domestic violence (more accurately referred to as intimate partner violence or IPV).
Probation and parole officers are the ideal law enforcement professionals to identify IPV. “These officers are in a unique situation because they can go into someone’s home and not be denied entry—to stop them would be a violation and would result in immediate arrest,” said Wallace. While officers are well suited to identify IPV, such situations are often volatile and dangerous so officers must be properly trained to respond in a way that won’t further endanger the victim.
Training Officers to Recognize IPV
Wallace combined his career experience in parole and probation with his academic interest in IPV awareness and prevention to author a section of APPA’s course, When the Offender is a Victim: Community Corrections Strategies for Supervising Those Victimized by Domestic Violence. The course was funded by a grant from the Office on Violence Against Women through the Department of Justice.
The course is offered at two different levels. The first is an online course educating officers about the signs of IPV and what actions they should take if they suspect abuse. The second option includes both the online training portion and a day-and-a-half, in-person training taught by Wallace, two individuals from victim advocacy organizations, and representatives from APPA. This in-depth session includes additional topics that are difficult to cover in an online format and also gives officers the chance to practice and improve their skills. Officers participate in role-playing activities that simulate real-life situations they are likely to encounter and teaches them how to properly and effectively respond.
What NOT to Do If You Suspect Abuse
Officers must be very careful what they say when they suspect IPV. Officers should never:
- tell the person they’re a victim of abuse
- force them to talk about the abuse
- ask questions in front of the suspected abuser. Always conduct conversations privately and out of sight and ear shot of the abuser.
- use an accusatory tone
- encourage the person to leave the situation if they don’t have a plan in place
When an officer suspects IPV, it is critical they seek out and collaborate with professionals who are victim advocates. “One point we strongly emphasize in the course is that officers are not trained to deal with IPV,” said Wallace. “Yes, they can be the ones to recognize that violence is happening, but then they must hand it off to the people who know how to deal with these situations.”
Sometimes it’s hard for officers to accept that they can’t be the ones to help a victim. “Officers know they’re not trained to help someone with a drug or alcohol problem, but it’s easy to think you can help this person get away from their current situation,” he said. Thinking you can help is a wrong—and potentially dangerous—mindset.
“If an abuser suspects or senses that you suspect abuse, even if the victim doesn’t confirm it, they’re going to take it out on the victim,” he said. Therefore, after officers confirm an abusive situation they must bring in the right professionals and resources to help the victim. Officers must work with their agency leaders to identify local victim advocates and other professionals who can be resources for victims of IPV.
Another aspect of the IPV training that is often-overlooked by officers is taking the time to recognize how these situations are affecting them. “We’re teaching officers not only how to recognize IPV and get victims help, but also about the importance of self-care,” said Wallace. “If officers aren’t careful, these situations can have an emotional impact on them as well.”
The training program is available and free to all APPA members. Nathan Lowe, program director of grants and research projects for APPA, says the association is constantly looking to develop and deliver new training topics that enhance the skills, knowledge and abilities of officers.
“Probation and parole officers are asked to wear a lot of different hats,” said Lowe. “Now they’re being trained in a way that gives them skills so they’re more inclined to not just be an officer who enforces conditions of probation, but someone with some social worker skills who can potentially help.”