COP Columns





War On The Home Front

A Dime-A-Dozen Domestic Call


I missed the triple shooting in the afternoon, of course. I always miss anything big in 4-D. It may just be a scheduling problem, but I suspect it's a conspiracy by the police. When they find out I'm coming, word goes out on the street: "Fred's on the way. Yeah, that weird guy from the Times. Everybody behave. Be boring." And so crime stops.

Anyway it was early evening up around Catholic U. and Officer Delroy Burton was telling me about how all these green kids come to Washington from peaceful small towns in the fall and don't know you can't use the ATM late at night, so they get robbed. Burton is a black ex-Marine cop from Jamaica. Like most cops, he knows more about the streets than all the world's columnists and editorial writers combined, but it will never occur to any of them to ask him. Which explains a lot.

The radio said a domestic dispute was in progress, would we go do something about it? Sure. Burton turned on the siren and away we went.

Domestics are crazy. Usually they're just a lot of screaming and fussing, but sometimes husbands and wives chop each other up. Domestics are also unpredictable. When people fight with their significant others, they become temporary loons. The average cop would rather go to a gang war than to a domestic dispute.

We got to the house, an attractive old detached home on a pretty street. Two other cars arrived at about the same time. Several cops rushed up on the porch. For all they knew, someone was being stuffed into a blender.

But no. A tall good-looking young black woman appeared, upset but not hurt, and went into the street to talk to some of the cops. Whatever had happened, I gathered, it was all his fault. This was normal. Everything is always the guy's fault.

The guy appeared, a quietly-upscale-looking black fellow with scratches on his chest. He was well-spoken, apparently puzzled by it all-whatever it was-and not upset. He kept saying with a wry smile, "I don't know what happened. I just don't know." It wasn't a drugged, brain-dead, mentally challenged "I don't know." It was more of a "What got into her?" sort of I-don't-know.

I still don't know. It was complicated, incomprehensible to an outsider, and emotionally loaded. That's normal too. But as it turned out, under the law the cops had to arrest somebody. As a cop explained it to me, "You might figure, OK, they're at peace again, just leave them alone. Then two hours later one of them takes a shotgun to the other, and we catch hell for letting it happen. This way's safer for everybody."

Who to arrest? Usually it's the man, but this time it was the woman. Why? The guy had been the one to call the police for help, suggesting that he didn't want to take matters into his own hands, and she had visibly clawed him pretty well. He obviously could have beaten her half to death if he had chosen, but she didn't have a mark on her. In short, he had exercised restraint, she looked to be the violent one, and anyway it was his house.

Unsurprisingly, she wasn't thrilled. Her language took a dive for the gutter and she informed us that, "I'm the prettiest and the youngest girl he ever had!" The relevance to anything wasn't clear. The guy kept saying, "Don't do this, officer. She doesn't need to go to jail." To which the cops replied, "We don't have a choice on this one."

Off she went, mad as a damp hornet. In a sense it was no big deal. She hadn't done anything terrible, nobody was mad at her, the guy wasn't likely to press charges, and she'd be out in the morning. On the other hand, neither would anything explosive happen after the cops left.

As we left, Burton explained why domestics are dangerous, saying, to a near approximation (ever try writing in a moving police car with no light?), "When you get there the wife is mad and says Take him away. But when she sees him in cuffs she thinks, That's my husband. She remembers he's the father of her kids and helps pay the rent and she goes berserk. Cops get stabbed, hit with things, scalded, you name it. Not good."

No. And a waste of time cops would rather spend catching criminals. Like I say, they'd rather have leprosy.

See? You are not alone.

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