Domestic violence, in particular violence against women, is a very important issue in the American society. It is more widespread and occurs more frequently than many people believe. Statistics shows that women are the most common victims of domestic violence and 50 percent of all women in the United States have or will suffer from domestic violence during their lifetime. Several women die each week as a result of domestic violence (Rivera, 1994) Consequently, it is very important to create effective prevention mechanisms and to save innocent victims. Each domestic violence situation is unique and requires customized approach. Most experts agree that arrest is not always the best way to deal with the situation. Obviously, arrest of some domestic violence offenders is justified, however, in some other cases it is completely unnecessary.
On one hand, police officers in most of the states have to arrest batterers, but on the other hand, many of them are reluctant to do the paperwork and do not provide any response to domestic offenders. It is possible, that when police officers have several options to choose from (i.e. arrest or threat or counseling) and are allowed to evaluate the situation and victim’s trustworthiness, they will be able to make a better decision and find the best suitable approach to resolve a problem. However, in many previous cases, police did not use its discretion well enough and partially lost its credibility. Reports show that before 1980s police officers almost never arrested batterers. During 1970s – 1980s the issue has attracted increased attention and resulted in new rules prescribing to arrest all offenders in all domestic violence situations.
Police have traditionally often did not arrest offenders in the domestic violence situations. Studies show that police was often reluctant to intervene or treat seriously such incidents. When the issue was left at their discretion, police officers chose rather not to arrest domestic offenders, seeing arrest as a last resort. (Sherman & Berk, 1984) Male police officers tended to be more sympathetic with men hitting their wives (Rivera, 1994). A questionnaire conducted among police officers revealed that they were more likely to arrest juvenile delinquents that a man hitting his wife (Brown, 1981). “A man’s home is his castle” and police officers preferred not to get involved in what was happening behind the closed doors.
Some American states have introduced mandatory arrests policies. However, this alone also did not solve the problem. Some police officers arrested both offenders and victims. Both in Wisconsin and Minnesota for example, there was more than 10 percent increase in victims’ arrests after mandatory arrest policies were implemented. Moreover, most of the women were arrested while they acted to protect themselves. Researchers show contradictory findings, however, most of them fail to prove that arrest alone deters future occurrences of domestic assault. (Saunders, 1995, p.147-58)
Some researchers were able to find correlation between police officer’s actions and his/her stereotypes. Many Latinos are seen in society as “violent and alien” and tend to be arrested more often. (Rivera, 1994) Minority victims have complained that they are being less protected by police (Watkins, 2005). Moreover, if police officers have traditional views and believed that man is a head of a family, they were less likely to either arrest him for domestic violence or send to counseling (Saunders, 1980, p.40). Police tend to pay less attention when people with low income and low social status are involved in domestic violence (Sun, 2006).
When coming on a call, police officers can choose coercive (threatening, arrest) or non-coercive (counseling) measures to settle an issue. Police can negotiate, threaten offenders, ask him or her to leave or make an arrest. Sherman and Berk (1984) came to a conclusion that arrest works better for some lawbreakers than the others (p.261-75). If a weapon is present, police is more likely to arrest an offender (Eigenberg, Scarborough, & Kappeler, 1996, p.27-54).
What can influence one suspect will not necessarily work on another. All domestic violence situations are different and require different approaches. Some studies suggest that employed offenders tend not to cause domestic violence situations again after an arrest, while unemployed offenders tend to repeat their assaults after an arrest. If an assaulter is not arrested by police, married couples are less likely to get involved into domestic violence situations, than unmarried couples. (Pate & Hamilton, 1992, p.5) The more attached a person is to his or her neighbors and relatives, the more he/she is likely to change and not repeat any assaults in the future. (Berk, Campbell, Klap & Western, 1992, p.5)
Many officers have received training in handling domestic conflicts and are able to advice a victim and suggest appropriate support measures and programs. Since the 1980s, police officers have viewed domestic violence much more seriously and have been able and willing to provide assistance to victims. As studies show, police officers with higher education are better at resolving domestic and interpersonal conflicts. (Sun, 2006)
In the 1990s, after complaints that police officers do not take the issue seriously enough and do not arrest enough offenders, many pro-arrest policies were adopted. Mandatory arrest policies are probably not the best solution to the problem and offer only a short-term solution. However, since police have started treating domestic violence problems more seriously, police officers are better trained and are able to resolve incidents of domestic violence more effectively. Also, equal treatment of all victims should be promoted. Police departments moved from nearly ignoring domestic violence to arresting all offenders, which are two extremes. I believe that when properly educated, police officers are able to differentiate between cases where an arrest is needed and those when for example counseling could be a better solution. Arrest in domestic violence situations can and should be left on police officers’ discretion, however, they should be appropriately trained for that.
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