DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AWARENESS MONTH
Recently retired Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety Michael Duxbury was back in Anchorage at the end of September for a few days of family time, when he faced a split-second decision about whether to intervene in a situation where a man was beating up a woman inside a car.
The scene occurred on the south side of the Dimond Mall parking lot, when Duxbury, who was driving from the mall after buying a doll for his granddaughter, observed bizarre commotion in the car ahead.
A man had the woman passenger’s head and was slamming it into the console. His hands were off the steering wheel as he used both of them to exert brute force. Her arms were fighting back, but she was clearly outmatched and getting pounded.
Another car scooted by and went on its way. Maybe the occupants saw the fight and decided it was too much for them, Duxbury wondered.
Duxbury had to decide: Does he get out of the safety of his car and approach the car in front of him, now stopped at a stop sign, or does he just call the police.
“The guy was uncontrollably wild,” Duxbury said, describing gestures that reminded the retired officer of behavior he’s seen in those under the influence of methamphetamines.
Duxbury’s instincts took over. Handing his phone to his wife and asking her to call 911, Duxbury opened the car door where the altercations was in full boil, and told the man to get out. The man was flailing and for a moment, reached toward the console. Was the man reaching for a weapon? Decisions were being made by both of them in the split second.
The assailant continued to flail and yell uncontrollably, and then Duxbury noticed something in the back seat:
It was a four-month-old baby.
It was 20 minutes before police arrived, and Duxbury was able to keep the man, woman, and baby at the location until officers were on the scene. The man had scratches and the woman had a bruise in what looked like it would become a shiner.
Duxbury was aware that as of September, he is a civilian for the first time in 30 years after being a State Trooper nearly his entire career. Now that he’s not a police officer in Alaska, he’s like everyone else having to make a quick decision about whether to intervene in a violent crime.
Since last week, he’s reflected on the advice he’s been giving communities for his entire career in law enforcement: Police are the people and the people are the police. It takes everyone. We’re all in this together.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Duxbury told Must Read Alaska that it’s as good a time as any for people to stand up and intervene in domestic violence, if they can safely do so. Violence such as what he and his wife witnessed is not a one-time occurrence, and sometimes escalates to murder.
But what he also realized is that it’s easier said than done. Without his first-line protection of a uniform, a car with lights, and a badge, Duxbury knew the assailant was seeing him as just another person, not someone who could throw him in jail. It was an entirely different circumstance.
In the end, Duxbury and his wife had to leave right after police arrived, so they didn’t see the outcome of the investigation.
But one thing Duxbury did take notice of: Before he left, the woman was visibly mad at him for having gotten involved. She said the incident was nothing, and the abusing male said that no one was hurt.
That’s what makes it so hard for citizens to get involved, Duxbury noted. If the police don’t fully support citizen intervention in crimes, then citizens just won’t risk their safety or reputation, only to be told they’d overstepped or misinterpreted something.
It’s a conundrum that has bothered him, even now that he’s returned to Washington, D.C., where he’s taken a new position: How do you encourage the public to take a stand against domestic violence, when so many things can go so wrong for them?
It is a question he doesn’t have the answer for, other than to say that getting involved isn’t vigilantism — it’s citizenship. You intervene because there will never be enough police officers to stop every crime from being committed.
What would you advise Alaskans do if they’re seeing domestic violence and police aren’t coming? Add your comment below.