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Mandatory arrest and no-drop prosecution

By Richard L. Davis
web posted April 10, 2006

In 1981 a group of citizens in Duluth, Minnesota became so frustrated with what they perceived was a lack of commitment by the criminal justice system concerning people who beat and battered their spouse that they founded the Duluth Abuse Intervention Project.

And most reasonable people agree that if someone beats or batterers their spouse that person should be arrested, sanctioned, and perhaps placed in an effective treatment/counseling program.

It is said that for every complex problem that we face our public policy makers come up with a simple and elegant response that is wrong. There is now ample evidence that documents that mandatory arrest and no-drop prosecution are two deeply flawed and harmful responses to the complex enigma that is domestic violence.

Mandatory Arrest

Public policy makers and domestic violence advocates want the public to believe that there is a study that documents that mandatory arrest works best. In fact, the architect of that 1984 study, Lawrence W. Sherman, knows that his study didnot claim that mandatory arrest is a good idea. In fact, the truth is that Sherman believes that mandatory arrest is a dangerous idea. Sherman documents the following about mandatory arrest:

  • Arrest reduces domestic violence in some cities but increases it in others.
  • Arrest reduces domestic violence among employed people but increases it among unemployed people.
  • Arrest reduces domestic violence in the short term but can increase it long term.

No-Drop Prosecution

When our public policy makers and domestic violence advocates put into place no-drop prosecution there was no empirical evidence or studies to document its efficacy. After no-drop prosecutions were put in place a number of empirical studies document the following:

  • No-drop prosecution may aggravate already tumultuous relationships.
  • No-drop prosecution is associated with increases in the homicide of white married intimates, black unmarried intimates, and white unmarried females.
  • No-drop prosecutions may cause some people who do need assistance to avoid seeking help from any aspects of the criminal justice system.

Who Opposes These Policies

The Ms Foundation For Women opposes mandatory arrest and no-drop prosecution. The Ms. Foundation believes that victims want their voices heard not silenced and that victims want their needs heeded, not ignored. By their very nature mandatory arrest and no-drop prosecution ignores those victims. In fact the Ms. Foundation believes that those whose lives are often endangered by no-drop prosecution are the very same people who need help the most.

Esta Soler is the founder and president of the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF). Soler believes that all acts of intimate partner violence are wrong. But, Soler acknowledges that domestic violence is not one person pushing another person once or twice because of an argument. Soler believes that domestic violence occurs when there is an ongoingpattern of fear, intimidation and violent assault."

Ellen Pence, who pioneered the Duluth Intervention Project, also believes that today's one-size-fits-all mandatory arrest and no-drop prosecution policies are not accomplishing what the Duluth Intervention Project intended. Pence acknowledges and understands that those who commit minor acts of "family conflict" or one act of abuse are not "batterers."

The greatest failings of mandatory arrest and no-drop prosecution are that mandatory arrest and no-drop prosecution policies ensure that the criminal justice system ignore the difference between an ongoing pattern of fear, intimidation and violent assault and minor family disputes and they ignore the desires and needs of victims.

The National Research Council Ignored

The National Research Council is an organization of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific research dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology. It is the responsibility of the NRC to report their findings to Congress. The NRC has warned Congress that policies and programs that do not distinguish between violence, abuse, or battering may do more harm than good.

The NRC warns there are a growing number of studies that document rigid mandatory interventions that ignore the diversity of family desires and lack varied programs for the diverse characteristics of multi-problem offenders and victims are causing victims to ignore the very system designed to assist them.

Many domestic violence advocates and public policy makers believe that mandatory domestic violence policies and practices are necessary because if they save only one life they are worthwhile. These advocates and public policy makers ignore who will accept the responsibility if these same policies and practices take one life.

Are not the families who may be harmed by mandatory arrest and no-drop prosecution as worthy as those who may be helped?

Richard L. Davis is a retired lieutenant from the Brockton, Massachusetts police department. He has a graduate degree in liberal arts from Harvard University and a second in criminal justice from Anna Maria College. He is a member of the International Honor Society of Historians and the American Society of Criminology. He is a college instructor for Quincy College at Plymouth, MA in Criminology, Criminal Justice and Domestic Violence. He is the vice president for Family Nonviolence, Inc. www.familynonviolence.com in Fairhaven, MA. He is also the vice president for the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women http://www.noexcuse4abuse.org/. He is an independent consultant for criminal justice domestic violence policies, procedures, and programs. He is the author of Domestic Violence: Factsand Fallacies by Praeger publishers and has written numerous articles for newspapers, journals, and magazines concerning the issue of domestic violence. He has columns concerning domestic violence at www.policeone.com, and www.nycop.com, is a distance learner instructor in Introduction to Criminal Justice and Domestic Violence for the Online Police Academy and has a website at www.policewriter.com.  He and Kim Eyer have a domestic violence website The Cop and the Survivor at http://www.rhiannon3.net/cs/. He lives in Plymouth, Massachusetts with his wife the youngest of five children. He may be reached at rldavis@post.harvard.edu.

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