The number of police departments encouraging their officers to make arrests in cases of minor domestic violence has tripled in just one year, a private research organization concludes. The survey of more than 140 cities by the Washington-based Crime Control Institute found that 44 cities of more than 100,000 people surveyed in 1985 had policies encouraging arrests for minor domestic assaults, up from 14 cities in 1984.
The survey also showed that the percentage of police departments reporting more actual arrests for domestic violence over the preceding year increased, from 24 percent of those surveyed in 1984 to 35 percent last year.
The upward climb follows a finding in a widely publicized experimental program in Minneapolis that arrest was an effective deterrent to repeated domestic assault. In the wake of the Minneapolis study, a number of the nation's largest cities made at least some policy change to crack down on domestic violence, including Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, Miami, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., according to the latest survey.
Institute president Lawrence W. Sherman said that many factors may be influencing the shift to arrest policies, such as media attention to the family violence issue, lawsuits against police departments for failing to make arrests, and changes in state laws.
Minneapolis Police Chief Anthony V. Bouza, who also is chairman of the non-profit Crime Control Institute, said that despite evidence supportive of making arrests for domestic violence, almost half of all urban police agencies still give their officers no policy guidance on the issue. In those departments, police are allowed total discretion on whether to arrest, seek to mediate between the husband and wife, or to order the husband or wife to leave the home.
The sharp increase in the percentage of departments encouraging arrests occurred largely in cities that previously had encouraged mediation, rather than among departments that had a policy of total discretion. Mediation is a loose term that can suggest providing highly skilled assistance to calm people involved in domestic violence. It can also cover a simple order by a police officer to a spouse to stop fighting or else face arrest.