U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Police Civil Liability for Inappropriate Response to Domestic Assault Victims

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 31 Issue: 2 Dated: March/April 2003 Pages: 129-146
Brenda Sims Blackwell; Michael S. Vaughn
Date Published
March 2003
18 pages
This article discusses police civil liability for inappropriate police response to domestic violence.
The cases discussed represent all successful 1983 cases identified through a Westlaw and Lexis search of domestic violence lawsuits. This research analyzed the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause, dividing case law into two broad areas: gender discrimination and crime type discrimination. The legal liability of police officers for inadequate response to domestic violence incidents was assessed by using case law to classify the types of conduct by officers that led to the courts’ use of either intermediate or minimal scrutiny standards. The Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause means that the State may not create laws or classifications that discriminate against people within a classification. All individuals that are similarly situated must receive treatment that is similar to what other members of that classification receive. If a classification is characterized as quasi-suspect, such as gender, the intermediate level of review applies. Plaintiffs must prove that, motivated by gender discrimination, police treated their cases differently based on their status as women, and that police cannot show that important governmental interests were substantially furthered by the disparate treatment. Results of this analysis show that policy changes adopted to better address domestic violence situations have not been equally accepted in departments across jurisdictions nor have they completely succeeded in changing officer attitudes or behaviors. Even with mandatory arrest policies, arrest rates remain low, ranging between only 11 and 22 percent. Departments are open to potential liability for inappropriate responses to domestic violence. To avoid liability under the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause, police must treat victims of domestic violence similarly. Officers responding to domestic violence incidents must take care not to discriminate on the basis of gender or crime type. 2 figures, 9 notes, 68 references