Hanna , New York, where I worked as a prosecutor, has a similar pro-arrest policy in domestic-violence cases to Florida’s, and it’s a good one. It eliminated what we used to call the “walk around the block” rule-wherein an officer would take the aggressor for a walk to “cool off” and then encourage the combatants to work it out. It’s not politically correct to say so, but in some cases, that’s not a bad thing to do. It’s just that when it is a mistake, it’s a very big mistake. The costs of arresting someone and imposing a mandatory restraining order (the violation of which will often result from children being removed from the home-a big incentive for victims who’d like, rightly or wrongly, to give their partners another chance) are outweighed by the very real risk of greater harm.
But there still is-and ought to be-some room for discretion. Tiger Woods isn’t a protesting victim who’s called the police in, and now-once he’s out of danger-wants them to back off. Nor is he someone whose neighbors called in the kind of disturbance that’s frightening the block, or whose battered appearance is worrying his family and friends. No witnesses have reported threats or incidents. Those aren’t the only things that call for the police to make an arrest against the wishes of the victim, but they’re some of the more common ones. Truly, in these circumstances, the police and prosecutors look at three things: Is any one individual in danger, is the public in danger, and is this situation going to come back and bite us later? (That last one’s nothing to be proud of, but-see Mike Huckabee-it’s both an emotional and a political calculation.)
I just don’t see any of those things being issues here. What I do see is a fourth consideration-the “press case” consideration, which goes as follows: Are we going to be accused of doing things differently because there’s a celebrity involved? I think your argument is that the police are responding differently-that without Tiger’s fancy lawyers, the police would be going after those medical records. I think you’re wrong. Pro-arrest policy or not, I think the police would have done the same thing here. They were called for a small one-car accident, they dealt with a small one-car accident. They saw signs of an underlying incident; they put the fear of God into the parties about that underlying incident. They considered-rightly-the three questions and concluded that neither Tiger Woods, the children, nor the public was at risk. Now-with their eyes open and in the absence of any other complaints-it’s time for them to move on. If they do anything else, it’s going to be in response to that fourth consideration, and when police and prosecutors are forced to spend their resources on a celebrity case for any reason other than public and personal safety, other people-the people who really need that attention-suffer.
I am willing to bet that, right now, there are other cases in that Florida county that need, and are getting, the kind of attention you’re talking about. Medical records are being examined, and experts asked if they can legitimately say that there’s no way those injuries resulted from “walking into a door.” Friends, neighbors, and family members are being pressed to testify even though the victim refuses to do so. Kids are being gently interviewed, and the right people know that the victim can’t be allowed to make her partner’s bail. And even with all that, it still may not work. Whoever that victim is, she needs all the help she’s getting. Tiger Woods can take care of himself. The Florida cops are right to let him.