Officer discretion often the deciding factor in CDV charges - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Officer discretion often the deciding factor in CDV charges

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Understanding human behavior is a huge factor in dealing with domestic violence. Law enforcement officers are trained yearly on how to handle these crimes. While there is a law on the books, often it comes down to officer discretion when deciding who gets charged.

Cadets at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy spend close to 100 hours studying criminal domestic violence in the classroom and practicing scenarios.

"One of the first things we need to do is separate the victim from the abuser," said Brian Bennett, instructor at the academy.

"The primary purpose is fear. The primary purpose is fear. That is why most victims do not come to court."

Bennett specializes in criminal domestic violence and vulnerable adult abuse.

"Some people are going to tell the whole truth," said Bennett. "Some people are going to tell us nothing and then some people are going to tell us portions of the truth."

Cadets are taught the in's and out's of the law, such as identifying the victim, the abuser, understanding the cycle of abuse, and determining if an arrest is necessary. Often times, those decisions are not clear cut.

"There is a level of officer discretion. That discretion can vary from officer to officer," said Bennett.

Bennett says that depends on information and evidence on scene. Sometimes an arrest is mandatory.

"If there is a physical manifestation of injuries on the victim but the key wording is the officer has to determine who is the abuser and who is the victim," said Bennett.

Officers can only charge someone with CDV if they meet certain criteria. The abuser must be a spouse or a former spouse, must share a child with the victim, live together or once have lived together.

"Some people think because they may not qualify under the definition of domestic violence, that law enforcement can't do anything. Other criminal statutes protect those individuals under our assault law. Assault 1st degree, 2nd degree, 3rd degree," said Bennett.

Bennett says physical, bodily injury does not always have to be present to charge someone with CDV. Sometimes all it takes is a valid threat of violence. Once again, it's a decision determined by the officer.

"They make the best decision they can with the information known at the time," said Bennett. "It's very hard to make a decision about information that you don't know anything about."

Once cadets graduate, all officers statewide are required to complete 4 hours of CDV training each year.

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