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Non-Traditional Strategies for Domestic Violence

Episodes of domestic violence occur daily in households throughout our nation. The legal definition of domestic violence is an act by a person who inflicts corporal injury on his or her spouse, former spouse, or a current or former partner with whom the offender is in an intimate relationship. Interestingly, advocates of domestic violence prevention believe this definition is not broad enough.

They extend the definition to include sexual, emotional, and financial abuse. Thus, they consider unwanted sex, mental abuse caused by derogatory statements, and the withholding of money to be domestic violence. The fact that there is disagreement over the definition of domestic violence is often cited as one reason the incidence of domestic violence in America is difficult to determine.

Reports to police of unwanted sex between married couples or complaints of abuse or derogatory statements are not likely to cause police to initiate a criminal investigation for domestic violence. Moreover, the US Department of Justice does not require law enforcement agencies to report the specific number of domestic violence cases the agency investigated.

What is disturbing is that we don’t have a more accurate indication of the true number of domestic violence cases that are occurring annually in America. However, we can conclude that it happens much more than we will ever know.

Impact on Law Enforcement

A large number of the reported domestic violence cases are aggravated assaults that usually occur in the privacy of the victim’s home. Unlike many violent crimes that occur in public places, domestic violence is a difficult crime for the police to prevent as the arguments and the resultant assaults usually occur in the privacy of a home. Nonetheless, the FBI collects data from police and sheriffs departments on all forms of assaults, including domestic violence, and publishes it annually.

Corporate executives consider this data in rendering decisions about establishing new business in the area, or expanding an existing business, or choosing to close it altogether. These decisions impact a city’s economy, its unemployment rate, and the police budget. Secondly, reports of domestic violence, particularly those that receive considerable publicity, generate fear in a community and usually a call for action by police. Too often, a lack of attention to domestic violence by the police results in a plan that is forced upon police. Typically, the plan is neither well conceived nor comprehensive enough to impact the problem and prevent future occurrences.

Finally, domestic violence is a recurring crime that, if not properly addressed, results in repeated calls for service to the same homes. As a result, police are diverted from other public safety responsibilities. It stands to reason that local law enforcement should develop strategies designed to help victims help themselves before it results in a violent crime.

A Collaborative Response

Law enforcement agencies can more effectively prevent domestic violence by taking a more comprehensive approach than merely investigating the abusive behavior, collecting physical evidence, and submitting the complaint to the district attorney for prosecution. Collaborating with organizations that assist victims of domestic violence is certainly a good start.

In 1999, the Fresno, CA Police (FPD) developed a domestic violence community education program within the Department’s Central Policing District. It was a collaboration that involved the Fresno Police Department, a local church, and a victim advocate from a local shelter for women. The program was called “Healthy Families Forum” (HFF) and was designed to assist in educating people who had recently been involved in a domestic disturbance that was reported to police.Victims and offenders were invited to attend the forums held at the Tower Community Church in Central Fresno.

The first session provided participants with a definition and description of domestic violence, the effects it has on the family, and the various forms and phases of unhealthy partnerships. Jeanette Brady and Katie Crask, both members of the FPD’s Domestic Violence Unit and subject matter experts, lectured on these important topics.

The second session featured health care professionals, program administrators, and subject matter experts who presented a variety of different topics designed to help victims and offenders identify the causes of their problems and to improve their lives.

Brady and Crask used a variety of methods to generate public interest and participation in the monthly forums. They mailed information about domestic violence along with notices announcing the dates of the forums to parties listed on police reports of domestic violence.

In addition, Brady and Crask held a press conference and invited the media to showcase the program. Media coverage resulted in greater interest and participation from people throughout Fresno.

Police officials should also recognize that continuing to do business as usual, as in responding repeatedly to calls of arguments, fights, and assaults involving domestic partners, does little to resolve conflicts that lead to injured victims. Moreover, it takes police officers away from other important crime reduction responsibilities.

Police organizations should take a more a comprehensive approach, such as working collaboratively with counselors, the clergy, and social service organizations to try to reduce the frequency of domestic violence in their respective communities. Helping domestic partners change the behaviors that lead to violence can only benefit police agencies.

Marty L. West is a captain with the Fresno Police Department where he has served for the past 30 years. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from California State University, Frenso.

Published in Law and Order, Sep 2005

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