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Domestic Violence Investigators

A domestic violence investigator's job is to thoroughly review domestic violence cases.

Domestic violence investigators are police officers. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Domestic violence investigators are police officers.

Domestic Violence Investigators

Domestic violence investigators work with police officers and the district attorney's office to see that incidents of domestic abuse are properly followed up on and, if possible, prosecuted. These detectives fall under the Special Victims and Family Crimes Section, which was established to take a holistic approach to stemming violence due to family dysfunction.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, police detectives are often assigned to interagency task forces devoted to fighting a particular type of crime, and domestic violence detectives are no different. As communities move toward a comprehensive, victim-centered approach to combating domestic violence, many detectives are being assigned to a domestic violence unit. This team usually consists of at least one criminal investigator, in addition to victim's advocates and perhaps a social worker.

A domestic violence unit is usually charged with being the liaison between responding police departments, prosecutor's offices, safe houses and other victim advocacy groups. In addition to gathering evidence for prosecutors, many units also supply outreach and education initiatives to build community and agency support for their efforts. To this end, officers may lead seminars or sit on boards that address domestic violence issues.

Responding to Domestic Violence

Although domestic violence is a universal problem, many officers and detectives are not equipped to respond to the situations properly. Though there has been a nationwide push for more education, many law enforcement professionals have outdated notions of what domestic violence is and how to handle it. Many officers also become frustrated with the repetitive nature of the problem after showing up to the same residence repeatedly, only to watch the situation worsen.

One of the biggest impediments to properly following up on domestic violence situations is the sheer amount of time it takes to do it right. That's where domestic violence investigators become involved. According to Officer Denise Papagno, a member of the Easton Police Department in Massachusetts, her job is to thoroughly review domestic violence cases. She starts by conferring with the responding officer, then reads the family's case history and checks the aggressor's record.

Once detectives have a handle on the situation, they can determine whether the victim is in immediate danger and how best to help. They start by helping the victim develop a safety plan. From there, the officers can facilitate cooperation from a counseling program, victim's advocacy group or social services to come up with a strategy to prevent future abuse. When the domestic violence investigator is part of a unit, victim's advocates from within the team take on many of these responsibilities.

Another of the investigator's jobs is to provide the prosecutor with information relevant to the case. According to the District Attorney's Office of Winnebago, Wisc., this evidence can include:

  • 911 tapes
  • Interviews with victims and witnesses
  • Jail phone records
  • Physical evidence of a crime
  • Medical records
  • Photographs of injuries
  • Information from outside agencies, including probation offices and social services


The Career Path of Domestic Violence Investigators

Because domestic violence investigators are police officers, their career paths are similar. The amount of education necessary to become an officer varies by department. A high school education is essential, and many officers attend college and receive a two- or four-year degree; officers with degrees usually receive higher pay. Those planning to become detectives should opt for a concentration that deals with law enforcement, such as criminal justice, administration of justice, public administration or police science.

After they are hired, police officers must usually attend a police academy before they go out on the street. Large departments often have their own academies, whereas smaller departments rely on state or regional institutions. Academy training lasts anywhere from 12 to 14 weeks, and teaches first-aid and response skills and how to handle firearms, patrol and direct traffic. After working for a probationary period, officers may be eligible for a promotion to detective.

Officers who aspire to be domestic violence investigators can take advantage of college courses and seminars that explore the issue and teach response techniques. Wynn Consulting, for instance, details the complexity of domestic violence cases, why victims are reluctant to report, and how to respond to children at the scene and look for signs of strangulation, among other things. The National Sheriffs Association organizes a two-day seminar on investigating domestic violence cases, enforcing protection orders and limiting law enforcement liability. Many states offer their own seminars: Fairfax County in Virginia has a three-day course on responding to domestic violence situations, collecting evidence and prosecuting cases without a willing victim.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median salary of a criminal investigator was $58,260 in 2006. The lowest 10 percent of detectives made around $40,000, and the top earners made more than $100,000.

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