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Child CustodyCustody Fights and Domestic Violence All To Common During Holiday

December 21, 2006

I came across this article in NWI Times which confirmed, that which I already knew;   domestic violence and custody disputes increase during the holidays.  Though the article nvolves police in the Midwest, the message is universal.

Police officers who have to work on Christmas are faced with a double whammy.

Not only do they have to be away from their own families, they inevitably wind up spending time with someone else’s.

Lansing Police Chief Dan McDevitt said veteran officers know what to expect when working the holidays — a spike in domestic calls ranging from violent fights between family members to child custody disputes.

"If they’ve been around awhile, they know it’s a full moon syndrome," he said. "It’s going to get crazy."

McDevitt has taught at colleges, universities and police academies in the United States, Europe and the Middle East for both civilian and military law enforcement personnel.

He teaches his students that domestic calls are the worst they’ll encounter.

"There’s no more dangerous call for a cop," McDevitt said. "They’re completely unpredictable. No matter how badly the parties involved have been battling, when you show up, you’re the bad guy and they turn on you."

While working one Christmas, McDevitt was called to a homicide in Robbins involving a man who killed his cousin in a fight over a pork chop.

"We arrested the guy and were going to drop him off at the lock up and as I was getting him out of the squad, I said, ‘So, was it good?’

"He said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘The pork chop, was it good?’ and he goes, ‘It was delicious.’ It drove me nuts."

Sgt. Keith Hughes of the Portage Police Department was working as a supervisor last Christmas and took some time to go home to watch his children open their gifts.

"I no sooner get there and we get a call of a physical disturbance with a knife involving a father and two sons and one attacked another one with a frying pan," Hughes said.

Sgt. Tim Emmons of the Porter County Sheriff’s Department said domestic problems around the holidays are all but inevitable.

"You’ve got people thrown into family situations that aren’t always family-oriented," Emmons said. "People often drink during the holidays or take drugs to try to deal with the stress and that makes things more volatile. People also do it to excess who aren’t used to it, and that creates problems, too."

Police calls regarding child custody issues also tend to rise during the holidays, McDevitt said, and are some of the calls that upset him the most.

"It’s terrible," McDevitt said. "Don’t these people have any idea what this is doing to these kids?"

McDevitt and Emmons both said families often are advised by their attorneys to transfer custody at a neutral location and choose the Police Station, meaning children often spend part of their Christmas there.

Emmons said the custody situations sometimes escalate when police tell them they can’t get involved.

"Sometimes the best we can do is take a report and turn it over to the courts," Emmons said. "We often aren’t the custody police. If Dad’s two hours late returning the kids, Mom thinks we’ll make an arrest and, oftentimes, that’s just not the case."

As tough as working the holidays can be, McDevitt said he has a simple coping mechanism he stresses to his officers and students when handling domestic calls:

"Treat people like you’d like to have your family treated."

"I also tell them to treat people with some compassion," McDevitt said. "You probably have a nice family to come home to at the end of your shift, which is more than these people have, so try to be compassionate."

If your ex-spouse is supposed to have visitation with the children over Christmas, allow him/her  to see the children. The children are not pawns to be used to seek revenge for past wrongs or slights.. 

Above all, the holidays should be a festive time, a time to be shared by families, even families that are no longer  intact. 

The holidays should not be marred by custody disputes and  9-1-1 calls.

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