Two years ago, the Ohio legislature made broad changes in the domestic violence law. Those changes made it easier for domestic violence victims to file complaints and obtain temporary protection orders. However, the most significant change under the new law was Ohio's "preferred arrest policy."
The new law has expanded the role of police officers called to a domestic dispute. It describes specific circumstances under which "it is the preferred course of action ... that the officer arrest and detain" domestic violence offenders. If a police officer has reasonable cause to believe that a certain family or household member the is the primary physical aggressor, the officer may immediately arrest the offender. In deciding whether or not to make an arrest, the officer must consider:
The victim of a domestic violence offense cannot be required to sign a written statement before an arrest is made. When the officer, based on knowledge, observation of the facts and circumstances, or any other information, concludes that reasonable grounds exist to believe that domestic violence has taken place, an arrest should be made, regardless of whether or not the victim has signed a statement.
However, an officer who investigates a domestic dispute must make a written report of the incident regardless of whether an arrest is made. The officer must document his or her observations, including any visible injuries and any actions or statements of the parties or witnesses. If the officer does not make an arrest, the officer must articulate in the report a clear statement of the reasons for not making the arrest.
Is the law working? In the two years since the changes have been in effect, there has been an increase across the state in the number of arrests for domestic violence, as well as an increase in subsequent prosecutions. Although the purpose of the new law is to protect victims, rather than increasing arrests and prosecutions, the preferred arrest policy will raise public awareness of domestic violence and its consequences. If that greater awareness deters domestic violence, the new law will have served its ultimate purpose.