Since the 1970s, New Hampshire police have operated under a progressive policy for handling domestic violence cases that has saved countless lives. Under current law the presumption is that an arrest will be made when police observe evidence of abuse. They have a large degree of discretion and don’t need to witness the assault firsthand or obtain a legal warrant before they can separate the alleged attacker from his victim.
All that will change if Republicans get their way. The state’s GOP legislators are pushing two bills that will reverse a half century of progress, the Concord Monitor reports:
Domestic violence is no longer taken lightly legally or by society. That’s the way it should be, but two bills under consideration by this most unusual of legislatures, would undo that progress and put lives in danger. Both deserve a speedy defeat.
House Bill 1581 would turn the clock back 40 years to an age when a police officer could not make an arrest in a domestic violence case without first getting a warrant unless he or she actually witnessed the crime. That’s an exceedingly dangerous change. Consider the following scenario, one outlined for lawmakers by retired Henniker police chief Tim Russell:
An officer is called to a home where she sees clear evidence that an assault has occurred. The furniture is overturned, the children are sobbing, and the face of the woman of the house is bruised and bleeding. It’s obvious who the assailant was, but the officer arrived after the assault occurred. It’s a small department, and no one else on the force is available to keep the peace until the officer finds a judge or justice of the peace to issue a warrant. The officer leaves, and the abuser renews his attack with even more ferocity, punishing his victim for having called for help. [...]
It’s impossible to say how many lives the policy, in place since the 1970s, has saved or how many injuries it’s prevented. If they adopt House Bill 1581, lawmakers might find out, but the price paid could be extraordinarily high.
The other bill Republicans have proposed, HB 1608, limits judges’ ability to order the arrest of someone who has violated a domestic violence restraining order by contacting or abusing the person named in the order. It would also prevent judges from ordering defendants to surrender their weapons or block them from buying guns.
Police say the bill stops them from intervening to protect victims. For instance, they would be stripped of their power to arrest someone who is threatening to use violence against a victim or child. It’s unclear why New Hampshire Republicans have set their sights on repealing protections for abuse victims when promised to focus on economic priorities.