Q A couple next door is always fighting! In the middle of the night, there is yelling, screaming and crying. Should I call the police?
A If you find yourself in this situation, here are some considerations. First, domestic violence is just wrong.
There is never a reason to use physical violence against your loved one. Recognizing this, the law is harsh towards perpetrators of domestic violence. The police must arrest whichever person they deem to be the aggressor in the incident, especially if there is an injury to the victim. The perpetrator will be taken to the county jail and will be held either until brought before a judge or until obtaining bail.
When an argument is so out of control that the man is hitting the woman or vice versa, it is certainly time for the police to intervene. They will respond and do their own investigation to determine what happened. They will separate the parties, interview each one individually and will make a decision whether or not to arrest someone.
If you can state clear reasons for a strong belief that domestic violence is afoot, you should absolutely call the police. If, for example, you hear loud arguments followed by a crash and then crying, you must immediately call the police.
If you only suspect that something is going on, then proceed with caution. Again, as an example, if you see your neighbor has a big black eye the morning after you heard her arguing loudly and acrimoniously with her husband the night before, you should strongly consider calling the police.
If you just have an uneasy feeling, you should carefully consider before calling. The police will ask you why you think there has been domestic violence, so be prepared to explain your feelings to them.
If you called the police, you probably saw or heard something, and have, therefore, become a witness to the incident. Expect to be interviewed shortly after you called by a police officer even though the 911 dispatcher already asked you numerous questions.
Don’t worry about the police telling the perpetrator or the victim who called to report the incident. They will say that someone called, but they won’t divulge who it was, especially if you ask them to keep your name confidential.
However, if the case goes on to trial or other court proceedings, it is likely that the defense will send out an investigator to interview you as well. Either party could subpoena you to testify in court regarding what you saw and heard during the incident. This seldom happens, however, and you should never refrain from calling the police just because you don’t want to go to court. If you witness a crime, it is your civic duty to report it and to go to testify if the court requires it.
Naresh Rajan is an attorney in San Mateo County. Email[email protected]