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Working with the police

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed September 2019

Do I have to call the police?

No, you do not have to call the police. It is up to you if you want help from the police. But remember, sometimes other people, like neighbors, may call the police.

One thing to keep in mind is that the police are “mandated reporters” of child abuse or neglect. The police must report to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) if they think your child is being abused or neglected. DCF used to be called the Department of Social Services (DSS).  See Domestic Violence and the Department of Children and Families.

If you want to stop the abuse but you do not want to go to the police, you can file for a 209A protective order. 209A protective orders are also called restraining orders. See 209A Protective Orders for details. Getting a protective order does not use the criminal courts. Getting a 209A protective order will not send the abusive person to jail. But if you get a protective order and the abusive person does something that the order says they can’t do, they are “violating” the order. Violating a 209A protective order can be a crime. The person may end up going to jail if they “violate” a 209A protective order.

What will the police put in their report?

If you call the police or go to the police station, they will make a report. Some of the things that they may put in their report are:

  • what you tell them. This is called your “statement;”
  • what the abusive person tells them, if they speak with them. This is their “statement;”
  • statements from other people who may have seen or heard the abuse;
  • a description of the place where the abuse happened;
  • things that they see, like you or your child looking upset, furniture turned over, broken objects, red marks or bruises or other injuries on you or your child;
  • the time they got the call from you or someone else, the time they responded, and the name of the officers who responded; and
  • any other information they think is important, like the abusive person was drunk, or telling you about a hospital or shelter;
  • they may attach photographs if you have injuries that can be seen. You can ask the police to take pictures of your injuries, if they do not do so on their own. You can also give them pictures that you or someone else took.

If I call the police and they write a report, will they file criminal charges against the abusive person?

The police might file criminal charges against the abusive person. They might not. If they have "reasonable cause to believe" a crime happened, they can file a criminal complaint or make an arrest.

Can I get a copy of the police report?

Yes, it is a good idea to get a copy of the report. Victims of domestic violence have the right to get a free copy of police reports about the domestic violence. If you want a copy of your police report, you can ask for one from the police department. You can usually get a copy in a day or two. If you have any trouble getting a copy, ask to speak to a supervisor at the police station.

If your case is in criminal court, you can also call the District Attorney's office for your county to get a copy of the police report.  You can find the DA’s office on the website for the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association. You can search for your local District Attorney by your county or by the town you live in. You can also call your local district court, ask for the clerk’s office and they can refer you to the DA’s office.

Who to call for help

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You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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