For law enforcement, responding to domestic violence 'really wears on you'

Law enforcement respond to staggering number of domestic violence calls each year.

Editor’s note: This occasional series sheds light on the various organizations and people in the community who are helping in the effort to put an end to domestic violence.

Faith, friends and family – both at home and work – are three things that Bob Peper and Tony Kuhnau lean on after responding to domestic violence situations.

Peper, who's worked in law enforcement for the past 15 years, is a deputy with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. Sgt. Kuhnau, with the Alexandria Police Department, has nearly 19 years in law enforcement.

Both have seen their fair share of domestic violence cases.

“It’s staggering,” said Peper of the number of domestic violence calls that come in to the sheriff’s office.


Kuhnau said the same thing. Although they both said it is difficult to know exactly how many calls their offices respond to as a call may come in as a disturbance, fight or maybe even a noise complaint, when in reality, it is a domestic violence situation.

In 2018, the sheriff’s office responded to 126 domestic violence calls with that number jumping up to 137 in 2019. For this year, there have already been more than 75 domestic violence calls.

For the police department, there were 230 domestic violence calls in 2018, 238 in 2019 and to date for 2020, there have been 163.

Lasting impact

When Peper started his career in law enforcement, the impact of the situations he would respond to didn’t set in right away. He said he would do his job and move on and be ready for whatever call came in next.

Bob Peper

Now, as a husband and father, those calls are more impactful.

“You go to a call and you see the children. You see the concerns on their faces,” he said. “Those kids are like my kids. It means more now. They are struggling and it doesn’t have to be that way. I can relate more now and it is challenging. It really wears on you.”


Now that he has his own children, Peper said it has really opened his eyes to what kids have to deal with and the things that go on in homes where domestic violence is present.

He said when responding to those types of situations, he said deputies try to make sure there is as minimal impact as possible on the children.

“We comfort them as best as we can and try to sort out whatever is going on away from the children,” he said. “Sometimes, you can see and feel a sense of relief from kids when taking away a person in that kind of situation. You know they are going to feel safe for the night.”

Peper said a career in law enforcement and dealing with domestic violence situations can wear on a person. He added that domestic violence calls are some of the most dangerous calls law enforcement responds to because they have no idea the situation they are walking into.

“This career has lasting effects, which people may not understand,” he said.

He is thankful for his family, both at home and work, along with his pastor, as these are the people that help him work through the after effects of some of the cases. He doesn’t share details, but communicates his feelings and frustrations.

“You have to rely on others to help you get through life,” he said for himself, as well as for the victims of domestic violence.

Peper can recall many domestic violence calls he’s been on in his career. One he vividly remembers took place early on in his career. He showed up to a house by himself and had to wait for back up to go in as they weren’t sure of the circumstances.


“I sat outside listening to this woman’s screams, thinking I didn’t have time to wait for backup,” he said. “I knew I had to wait, but it was hard. Finally someone showed up and we were able to go in and take care of the situation.”

Peper said he remembers thinking afterward, “This is an interesting career choice.”

And there are times he still feels that way, especially when responding for the same calls at the same locations.

“It’s frustrating going to the same house for the same problems, but we have no idea what the victim is going through,” he said. “It’s hard, we get frustrated, but we also feel helpless. We’re the police. We’re supposed to fix this.”

Lots of dynamics to domestics

Kuhnau, a liaison on the Domestic Violence Task Force and also a liaison of the United Communities Advocating Non-Violence group, an organization that partners with businesses, community groups, schools and faith-based organizations to help put a stop to domestic violence, said it is hard to get a clear picture of the domestic violence scene based on the stats.

Tony Kuhnau

He said it helps for officers and deputies to know and understand what the state statutes are as it helps then with their course of action.


There are a lot of different dynamics that go into what makes an offense a domestic violence assault compared to 5th degree assault, he said.

If something is clearly a domestic violence assault, the state steps in and charges are pursued. If something is just an assault, victims have a right not to press charges.

When there has been a domestic violence assault, Someplace Safe in Alexandria is notified and will reach out to the victim, he said. With domestic violence assaults, if there are repeat offenses, the consequences can change from a misdemeanor on up to a felony. With a 5th degree assault, a person can be charged with that same offense over and over again and it stays the same.

Just like Deputy Peper, Kuhnau, who is a husband and father, struggles most when there are children involved.

“It’s incredibly hard when kids are put in the middle,” he said. “Sometimes, it is hard to remain objective. Especially when you aren’t getting the truth (from the adults) but can see it in their (the kids’) eyes.”

Kuhnau said officers go through training for how to handle domestic violence situations and he said they are taught to show empathy and compassion for the victims. He doesn’t ever put blame on the victim, although he personally may not understand why victims stay, he said he understands the root cause of most domestic situations is power and control. And that most often, drugs and alcohol are involved and only compound the issues.

“You do feel helpless in these types of situations,” he said. “But you also get scabbed over and learn to move on to the next case. It is a mechanism for us to deal with it. We are a broken world. We are a sinful world and it doesn’t feel right to say that we just move on, but we have to.”

Kuhnau said the police department has a great team in that they support each other and are there for each other to talk through the issues.


“I have great support in my family and friends and can talk with my pastor and my wife,” he said. “I have the great benefit of having a pastor as a best friend. He understands me. I also have a great resource in my wife. As much as I try to hide my feelings, I can’t. She helps me talk it out.”

He said that not only does the department care about and want to make sure victims of domestic violence are being taken care of, everyone in the department – the chief, captain and all the other officers – cares for one another and makes great strides to make sure everyone, officers included, are OK.

Make that call

Both Kuhnau and Peper encourage those who find themselves in a domestic violence situation to reach out – reach out to law enforcement, friends, family, neighbors, co-workers.

Kuhnau said if someone sees something or hears something or even suspects something is happening to someone they know, they should reach out to law enforcement or Someplace Safe.

“Make that call so we can deal with it,” he said.

Peper said to pay attention to clues, such as change in patterns, whether sleep, eating, attitude, demeanor. Pay attention to alcohol and/or drug use, he said.

There are many different resources within the community that can help those in domestic violence situations, but both Peper and Kuhnau said people just have to reach out. Reach out for help and rely on others because as Peper said, “No one wants to see a police car in the driveway.”

For emergency situations, the best bet is to dial 911. Other resources include the following:


National Domestic Violence hotline – or 800-799-7233.

Celeste Edenloff is the special projects editor and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
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