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'Hopelessness' Can Make Police Domestic Violence Calls Dangerous

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After two police officers and a firefighter were killed in Minnesota while responding to a domestic dispute involving a suspect previously convicted of assault and accused of domestic violence, experts said that type of call be among the most dangerous for first responders.

Police responded Sunday to a call involving a heavily armed suspect barricaded inside a home with his family, including seven children. After hours of negotiating, the suspect opened fire, killing officers Paul Elmstrand and Matthew Ruge and firefighter Adam Finseth and injuring another officer, Sgt. Adam Medlicott.

The suspect, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, was identified as Shannon Cortez Gooden, 38, who was barred for life from owning firearms after a 2008 assault conviction and had been accused of domestic violence by several women, reports USA Today.

Though each case is unique, domestic violence and law enforcement experts said several factors, including the presence of firearms and a history of violence, can make such confrontations more deadly.

"At a time when there's high emotions, some hopelessness involved, the outcome is always going to be unpredictable," said Patrick Yoes, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police. "So for an officer, it is one of the most dangerous calls that we go to."

Mark Wynn, a domestic and sexual violence prevention trainer and consultant, said an arrest can be the most dangerous moment for everybody involved in a domestic violence situation.

“When the victim is trying to get out, it really boils down to the offender losing control, and when they lose control, that's when they use more violence,” said Wynn, a retired Nashville police lieutenant. “And that's when officers are at higher risk.”

Seven of the 47 law enforcement officers killed by firearms in the line of duty in 2023 had been responding to a domestic disturbance, according to a report from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

One study of FBI statistics indicates an average of 4,194 assaults on police officers occur each year during such calls. according to a 2017 research brief from the Dolan Consulting Group.

"If the batterer was unemployed, had damaged property in the incident, shared a residence with the DV victim, was drunk, and displayed a hostile demeanor toward the officers when they arrived, there was a 1 in 4 chance that the DV batterer would assault the officers," the brief said, citing a 2011 study of more than 3,000 domestic violence calls by the Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Miami-Dade police departments.


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