Military commanders investigating on-base domestic violence are largely out of compliance with Defense Department rules, report concludes
An analysis of more than 200 cases of domestic violence at eight military installations, including Camp Pendleton, has determined that commanders and law enforcement personnel are not following their own rules when investigating and handling these cases and their victims.
The report, released April 19, reviewed military law enforcement practices when responding to domestic violence incidents, specifically looking at whether those practices were consistent with Department of Defense policies. The report also examined whether law enforcement complied with the policies at the scene.
“If military law enforcement personnel do not thoroughly investigate and document their response to domestic violence, decision-makers such as commanders and prosecutors will not have the necessary information to make informed and prosecutorial decisions,” the report, released by the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General, states. “These deficiencies could hinder criminal investigations, impact law enforcement and national security interests and expose victims to additional harm.”
Of 219 cases studied, 209 did not comply with Defense Department policies, the report found.
Cases of domestic violence that occurred between 2014 and 2016 were reviewed at eight bases. Two bases were selected from each service military branch, one with the highest number of domestic violence reports and one with the lowest number. There were a total of 956 domestic violence incidents during this period on the eight bases.
The installations included Camp Pendleton; Naval Base San Diego; Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.; Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulf Port, Miss.; U.S. Army Fort Bragg, N.C.; U.S. Army Installation Fort Belvoir, Va.; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; and Joint Base Andrews, Md.
Camp Pendleton had the highest number of cases reviewed with 47 incidents.
The report looked at how crime scenes were processed, how interviews were conducted and whether the Family Advocacy Program was notified of domestic violence incidents.
In one instance cited, at Fort Bragg, a person tore down a curtain rod and attempted to use it as a weapon during an assault. The incident report described the property damage but did not indicate whether law enforcement personnel conducted a search for the curtain rod or took pictures of the property damage.
“The Fort Bragg Chief of Police told us that he didn’t know why his department had non-compliance to crime scene processing,” the report states. “He told us that several inexperienced investigators may have contributed to noncompliance.”
The Army had a crime scene search compliance rate of 50%; the Navy, 56%; the Marine Corps, 24%; and the Air Force, 35%. When it came to evidence collection, the report found an overall compliance rate of 8%. The Army scored 5%, the Navy 0%, the Marine Corps 6% and the Air Force 29%. NCIS scored 58 percent.
The report also found that in some cases, a person’s criminal history was not submitted to the Defense Central Index of Investigations. This database provides information to commanders making disciplinary decisions and security clearance assessments. Information also was not submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation CJIS Division and the Defense Forensics Science Center in 180 of 219 cases.
In a case at Camp Pendleton, NCIS investigated an incident in which “the subject strangled the victim and threw her to the floor,” the report stated.
“We evaluated the domestic violence incident report and determined that NCIS personnel at Camp Pendleton had sufficient credible information that the subject committed a criminal offense,” the report said. “However, NCIS personnel at Camp Pendleton did not title and index the subject in the Defense Central Index of Investigations.”
Of the 219 incidents, the report found that a total of 247 people were evaluated in investigations and, of that number, 135 were not properly indexed.
Overall, the report concludes that the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force need to take prompt action to make sure Defense Department policies are complied with at crime scenes, that information and evidence is indexed appropriately and that military law enforcement comply with policies at the crime scene.
Officials with the Army have agreed with some of the findings and plan to conduct an analysis to review cases dating back to 1988; Air Force officials agreed with some recommendations and described specific actions they will take to implement changes. Officials with the Navy responded but did not state if they agreed or disagreed with the recommendations.
“As a result we consider all recommendations to the Navy and Marine Corps unresolved and we request additional comments from the Navy and the Marine Corps,” the report states.