Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research: For Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges

Published June 2009

Chapter 2. Reporting and Arrests

Section 10 — Is arrest the best response?

A major re-examination of a series of fairly rigorous experiments in multiple jurisdictions finds that arrest deters repeat reabuse, whether suspects are employed or not. In none of the sites was arrest associated with increased reabuse among intimate partners. [155] Another major study, based on 2,564 partner assaults reported in the NCVS (1992-2002), found that whether police arrested the suspect or not, their involvement had a strong deterrent effect. The positive effects of police involvement and arrest do not depend on whether the victim or a third party reported the incident to law enforcement. Neither do they depend on the seriousness of the incident assault, whether a misdemeanor or a felony. [63]

A Berkeley arrest study found similarly that all actions taken by responding officers — including arrest, providing victims with information pamphlets, taking down witness statements, and helping victims secure protective orders — were associated with reduced reabuse. By contrast, the highest reabuse rates were found where the responding officers left it to the victim to make a "citizen arrest," swearing out a complaint herself. [228] Research has also shown that police response also significantly increases the likelihood that victims will secure protective orders. [130, 151, 152]

Research also finds that, by and large, the vast majority of victims report satisfaction with the arrest of their abuser when interviewed after the fact. In Massachusetts, 82 percent were either very or somewhat satisfied, and 85.4 percent said they would call police again for a similar incident. [23] Similarly, a study of courts in California, Oregon, Nebraska and Washington found that 76 percent of the victims said they wanted their abuser arrested. [196] Also important to note is that police arrests in spite of victims' objections do not reduce the likelihood of victims reporting new abuse to police. [5]

Implications for Law Enforcement

Arrest should be the default position for law enforcement in all domestic violence incidents. (Research basis: Multiple studies in diverse jurisdictions. The police arrest studies were combined carefully, and intimate partner abuse cases were separated from family abuse cases.)

Implications for Prosecutors and Judges

One of the best ways prosecutors can encourage law enforcement to arrest abuser suspects is to follow through where possible by filing charges against those arrested. Judges encourage the arrest of abusers by ensuring that domestic violence cases that reach court are heard and not dismissed out of hand. (Research basis: The efficacy of arrests has been widely researched; the influence of prosecutors on law enforcement arrest behavior has been found in studies in which pro-arrest departmental policies mitigated anti-arrest personal views of individual officers. [59])

Date Created: June 5, 2009