Brown Deer Police and Domestic Violence
October 29, 2012
The Brown Deer police department has recently come under a great deal of criticism for the way they handled calls involving Randall Houghton, the shooter in the Azana spa multiple murder.
First, let me get my bias out on the table. Brown Deer Chief Steve Rinzel is a friend of mine. He is an excellent cop and a good person.
Second, my credentials: I was a prosecutor for over seven years, handling misdemeanors for much of the first two and a half years. I handled many domestic violence cases. While we don’t handle very many domestic violence cases in my current divorce practice, it does happen, although we make it a practice to never represent domestic violence perpetrators. [Side note: The Friday before the murders, Houghton called my office seeking representation. He never got to speak to me as my staff screens calls and, knowing just a little bit of his domestic violence history, told him that I would not be able to help him].
Before people, including those “domestic violence experts” quoted in the paper, criticize the Brown Deer police department, several things should be known:
- The primary impediment to prosecuting domestic violence perps is not the police, not the courts, but the victim. This is not meant, in any way, to blame the victim. But without their cooperation, the police, the DA and the courts are worthless. I tried one case without the victim’s cooperation – it was a very severe incident with substantial injuries. The victim refused to cooperate because she was back with the abuser. I tried the case based on the res gestae statements of the defendant, his statements to the police and the injuries. I thought it was still a strong case. The jury basically acquitted the guy before they got to the jury room.
- Domestic violence incidents create substantial risks to the police. One needs only to remember Officer Kieffer who was a Milwaukee police officer gunned down responding to a domestic violence call back in the 1970s. If someone like Houghton plans on killing himself, taking others with him, as happened in this case, is not big deal to him. Domestic violence creates a substantial danger to the police and to the victim’s neighbors.
- We cannot legislate our way out of this, not that politicians won’t try — see’s today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, for example. After all, if the perp is intending to die anyway, what potential punishment will deter him?
- As I said in a previous entry to this blog, restraining orders are not a shield. In fact, in certain cases, they may actually do more harm than good.
Perhaps the only effective treatment for this problem would be more services for domestic violence victims. Most of them lack both emotional and financial resources. As an Assistant D.A. in Milwaukee County, we had a staff of victim and witness specialists who would provide invaluable assistance. The court system is frightening and domestic violence victims have been stripped of any sense of worth and self-confidence. Providing them with counselors would assist them in getting through the process.
Of course, providing these resources would cost money. It is far cheaper to play Monday morning quarterback and criticize police officers who have to make instant decisions on how to minimize risk to themselves and others. Cheaper — and neither fair nor helpful.