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Report: Camp Pendleton falls short in domestic violence investigations

OCEANSIDE — Law enforcement officials at Camp Pendleton and several military bases around the country are not consistently following requirements when investigating domestic violence incidents, according to a report by the Department of Defense (DoD).

The report compiled by the DoD Inspector General’s office analyzed whether law enforcement organizations on military bases were complying with department policy when responding to nonsexual domestic violence incidents involving adult victims.

Analysis for the study examined a random sampling of 219 domestic violence incidents and found that military law enforcement organizations did not consistently process crime scenes, conduct thorough interviews or submit criminal history data to federal databases.

The IG’s report determined that violations were the result of law enforcement commanders instructing personnel to implement practices that weren’t consistent with DoD requirements, not having the proper equipment such as cameras to collect and preserve evidence and not performing effective supervision over incident responses.

Of the incidents analyzed, 47 of them occurred at Camp Pendleton.

According to the report, Camp Pendleton’s operations noncommissioned officer said the violations related to crime scene processing were due to law enforcement personnel not documenting procedures they performed and a shortage in cameras.

The officer added that additional cameras have since been purchased.

A domestic violence investigation unit was also established at Camp Pendleton so that any time an incident is reported, patrol officers will respond and then notify the domestic violence unit, which will send an investigator to respond, according to the officer.

Law enforcement is also required to notify the Family Advocacy Program (FAP) staff immediately upon receiving a domestic violence incident allegation, requiring FAP officials to interview children instead of investigators, according to the officer.

But the report reveals that children weren’t being interviewed by FAP or anyone else.

“We agree that the practice of relying on FAP to conduct interviews is acceptable because these personnel often have more training and experience interviewing children,” the report states. “However, during our evaluation, we found no evidence that children were interviewed by FAP.”

The Marine Corps also had a 12% noncompliance rate with regard to notifying FAP of domestic violence incidents.

According to the Camp Pendleton officer, failures to comply with DoD policies related to FAP were due to patrol officers not documenting FAP notifications they completed, but the domestic violence unit should prevent such noncompliances from happening.

“If Military Service law enforcement personnel do not thoroughly investigate and document their response to domestic violence incidents, decision makers, such as commanders and prosecutors, will not have the necessary information to make informed disciplinary or prosecutorial decisions,” the report states. “Further, these deficiencies could hinder criminal investigations, impact law enforcement and national security interests, and expose victims to additional harm.”

In one case, NCIS personnel at Camp Pendleton investigated a domestic incident where a subject strangled a victim and threw her to the floor.

The incident report was evaluated and determined to contain sufficiently credible information that would allow the subject to be entered into the index — but that never happened.

Comment provided from the branch head of the Marine Corps Law Enforcement, Investigations, and Corrections Branch did not respond to six recommendations from the DoD report.

Those recommendations include adding subjects who were not properly titled and indexed in databases, to collect and submit the DNA that wasn’t already sent in to the Defense Forensic Science Center, and to make sure practices, equipment and supervisory reviews are adequate to comply with DoD policies.

“Specifically, the Branch Head did not state whether he agreed or disagreed with the recommendations, nor did he describe actions the Marine Corps would take in response to the recommendations,” the report states. “As a result, we consider all of the recommendations to the Navy and Marine Corps unresolved and we request additional comments from the Navy and the Marine Corps.”

The DoD requests additional comments from the Navy and Marine Corps to state whether those branches agree or disagree with the recommendations, and to describe specific actions they will take to resolve those recommendations.

The Department of Defense (DoD) defines domestic violence as “an offense that involves the use, attempted use, or threatened use of force or violence against a person, or a violation of a lawful order issued for the protection” of both current and former spouses or domestic partners.