The Baltimore Police Department has begun rewriting its policy on dealing with domestic violence to require officers to arrest people accused of abusing their partners if evidence of physical violence is apparent.
Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said the new policy guidelines could be finished within 90 days, but then must be pTC reviewed by command staff and explained to officers, who will have to be trained in the new regulations.
The department's policy now leaves it up to officers or the victim whether to arrest a person involved in a domestic fight that ends with someone injured. The commissioner said that in most cases, the person abused declines to go through with the case.
"I think that women many times are locked into dangerous situations because they either are afraid to prosecute for fear of retaliation or they are involved in a domestic situation where, in their estimation, they don't want to bring harm to the one that they love," Mr. Frazier said.
"If she is a victim, she will continue to be a victim," the commissioner said. "The children will be made to learn that even if the police come, nothing is going to happen."
Mr. Frazier had discussed his policy change in the past several weeks with the Domestic Violence Coordinating Committee, a group of prosecutors, judges, police and others involved in criminal justice in Baltimore. The committee was started 12 years ago by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke when he was the city's state's attorney.
Also, the House of Ruth, a local program for batterers and their victims, plans to sponsor legislation in Annapolis to require mandatory arrests in domestic violence cases statewide. Mr. Frazier said his department will co-sponsor the bill.
"Our hope is that Baltimore City will implement it first so we can have a model," said Regina Hollins Lewis, an attorney with the House of Ruth. "Then we can make it uniform across the state."
In Baltimore, police said officers responded to 3,385 domestic violence cases in 1993, of which 1,502 resulted in serious injuries. Another 1,027 ended in slight injuries. Officers made arrests in 1,554 cases.
State police said that in 1992, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were 16,834 cases of spousal abuse, a 2.7 percent increase from 1991. About 3,000 of those cases resulted in serious injury.
Michael McKelvin, a state police spokesman, said officers in that department always make an arrest when an injury is obvious.
"Everyone is arrested if there is any shred of physical evidence," he said. "There is no discretion on the part of the officer."
Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms said the policy change will require careful evaluation of the court system to see if it can handle additional arrests. He also said more programs may be necessary to counsel those accused.
Mr. Simms said experts differ on whether a mandatory arrest policy will significantly increase the number of people arrested. He said some believe there might be a sharp increase and then a leveling off while others think there only will be a slight jump.
"The implementation of such a plan is certainly not inconsistent with the vigorous approach that all of the criminal justice agencies have attempted to take over the last couple of years," Mr. Simms said.
Ms. Lewis, with the House of Ruth, said the new policy will help abuse victims by removing emotional decisions that, under the current regulations, have to be made moments after the altercation.
"Now an arrest would be done no matter what the victim said," she explained. "The burden shouldn't be on the victim right in front of the perpetrator, right in front of the officer when she's still afraid. A crime has been committed and the perpetrator should be arrested."
Police officials said that often in cases where there are slight injuries, officers will explain to victims how they can file their own complaint with a court commissioner to file charges. That would change in Baltimore with the police department's new policy.
"The numbers are real clear that you can decrease your domestic violence 85 percent with mandatory booking," Mr. Frazier said.