Domestic Disturbance Calls: Always Dangerous, All too Often Deadly

On Friday night, June 6, Fredericksburg (VA) Police Officer Todd Bahr did what police officers across the country do every day of the year: he responded to a call for help from a victim threatened by domestic violence. And, in the words of Police Chief David Nye, he saved the woman’s life – even as he gave his own in the process.

The woman had called police to report that her ex-boyfriend, a 47 year old who had recently served six months in jail for another domestic disturbance incident, had threatened her and was outside her residence brandishing a handgun. The suspect fled the scene before officers arrived, but his vehicle was eventually spotted in the parking lot of an apartment complex adjacent to the victim’s home.

Officer Bahr was among the first officers on the scene, when the suspect, who had exited his vehicle and was hiding nearby, opened fire. Officer Bahr was struck in the head in what Chief Nye called an “ambush.” In the ensuing gun battle, officers struck the suspect several times. Severely wounded, the suspect turned his gun on himself and committed suicide.

Experts note that while domestic disturbance calls are among the most common calls that law enforcement officers handle, they are also among the most dangerous. In these situations, emotions are running high, the offender is often familiar with the “territory” and, in addition to lethal weapons such as guns and knives, alcohol and drug use are frequently involved. Friday’s incident in Fredericksburg was further complicated by the fact that officers were pursuing the suspect in their cars and on foot.

As NLEOMF Chairman and CEO Craig Floyd wrote in a recent article for American Police Beat magazine, the dangers associated with domestic disturbance calls are not a new phenomenon. In fact, since 1855, when New Haven (CT) Night Watchman Thomas Cummins became the first U.S. law enforcement officer ever to be killed on a domestic disturbance call, more than 550 other officers have suffered the same tragic fate.

Twelve of those officers were shot and killed in 2007, including Corporals Arlie Jones, Scott Gardner and Abel Marquez of the Odessa (TX) Police Department. They were gunned down last September when responding to a domestic violence call where a woman had reported being hit by her drunken husband. NLEOMF records indicate that drugs and/or alcohol were a contributing factor in more than one-third of the domestic violence-related deaths of U.S. law enforcement officers.

As for whether Officer Bahr’s actions saved the woman’s life, Chief Nye was unequivocal: “There’s not a doubt in my mind.”

Information on funeral arrangements for Officer Bahr.