A series of victim protection laws that went into effect Tuesday has toughened the penalties for domestic abuse-related crimes in Connecticut.
The new legislation gives police officers greater discretion to confiscate and hold firearms when a family violence crime has been committed. It also makes violating a protective order a felony and, for the first time, imposes a criminal penalty for violating a restraining order.
Victims’ rights advocates said they hope the stiffer sanctions will close holes in current statutes intended to protect victims of domestic violence.
“Every year we have been adding stuff to the family violence laws, the gun laws, and victim rights laws that deal with problems people have identified. In this case, you have a combination of all three,” said state Rep. Michael Lawlor of East Haven, who chairs the state House Judiciary Committee.
The New Haven Police Department and squads from surrounding cities are at the forefront of the movement to augment victim protection statutes. Since the formation of the Greater New Haven Area Domestic Violence Task Force in 1995, over 50 local law enforcement and community agencies have made policy recommendations and lobbied for stronger domestic violence laws. Three members of the task force testified before the Judiciary Committee in support of the latest legislation.
“New Haven has been doing a wonderful job [dealing with victims’ issues],” said state victim advocate James Papillo, whose office proposed the new laws.
Task force co-chairman and New Haven Police Lt. Kelly Dylan said New Haven police already imposed tougher penalties for domestic violence crimes than those formerly required by law.
Previously, police officers could confiscate weapons from the scene of a family violence dispute only if an arrest was made and could hold those weapons for 48 hours. Victims’ rights advocates said this left room for perpetrators to leave the scene and avoid surrendering their weapons or, if the incident occurred at the end of the work week, reclaim them before police could seek an injunction barring the return of the weapons.
Now officers who find evidence of a family violence crime can seize an alleged offender’s weapons — or any weapons in plain view — regardless of whether or not an arrest is made, and hold them for up to seven days.
Josie Rodberg ’03, co-chairwoman of the Yale Women’s Center Political Action Committee, said in an e-mail that greater police discretion also lifts the burden of accusation from the victim.
“The police are often limited in their ability to do anything concrete in a home where no one is willing to file a formal complaint, which is necessary for an arrest,” Rodberg said. “This new provision will allow police to take steps to protect those living in the home without the need for a legal ‘family violence’ complaint.”
Another part of the new legislation makes penalties harsher for the violation of protective and restraining orders.
Before Tuesday’s legislative change, the violation of a protective order was a misdemeanor; now, it is a felony. A restraining order, which is chiefly a civil remedy, previously held no penalty and is now a misdemeanor.
“Officers are going to be ecstatic about that,” Dylan said. “They have been frustrated in the past that there was no charge.”
In addition, patrol officers dealing with complaints of a violation have useful background information, such as victims’ affidavits detailing the nature of past abuse, at their disposal.
Yale Police Lt. Michael Patten said in an e-mail that the Yale Police will benefit from the greater leeway the new law grants.
“As a full-service police agency, University police officers encounter people subject to restraining and protective orders. This new change in the law helps us to enforce the orders of the court,” Patten said.
The Office of the Victim Advocate and New Haven’s Domestic Violence Task Force still see plenty of work ahead. In particular, advocates would like more funding for victim services. While the new legislation is significant, victim advocate and task force member Sandra Koorejian said, “The resources are not adequate to meet the demand”