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Sherman Et Al. (1984) - The Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment

Sherman Et Al. (1984) - The Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment

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Published by: PoliceFoundation on Oct 29, 2012
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 April 1984
The Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment
By Lawrence W. Sherman and Richard A. Berk
Under a grant from the National Institute of Justice, the Minneapolis Police Department and the Police Foundationconducted an experiment from early 1981 to mid-1982 testing police responses to domestic violence. A technicalreport of the experiment can be found in the April 1984 issue of the
 American Sociological Review
. This reportsummarizes the results and implications of the experiment. It also shows how the experiment was designed andconducted so the reader may understand and judge the findings.
Findings in Brief 
The Minneapolis domesticviolence experiment was the firstscientifically controlled test of the effects of arrest for anycrime. It found that arrest wasthe most effective of threestandard methods police use toreduce domestic violence. Theother police methods— attempting to counsel bothparties or sending assailantsaway from home for severalhours—were found to beconsiderably less effective indeterring future violence in thecases examined. These were notlife-threatening cases, but ratherthe minor assaults which makeup the bulk of police calls todomestic violence.The findings, standing alone asthe result of one experiment, donot necessarily imply that allsuspected assailants in domesticviolence incidents should bearrested. Other experiments inother settings are needed to learnmore. But the preponderance of evidence in the Minneapolisstudy strongly suggests that thepolice should use arrest in mostdomestic violence cases.
 Why the Experiment Was Conducted
The purpose of the experimentwas to address an intense debateabout how police should respondto misdemeanors, cases of domestic violence. At least threeviewpoints can be identified inthis debate:1. The traditional policeapproach of doing as little aspossible, on the premise thatoffenders will not be punished bythe courts even if they arearrested, and that the problemsare basically not solvable.2. The clinical psychologists’recommendations that policeactively mediate or arbitratedisputes underlying the violence,restoring peace but not makingany arrests.3. The approach recommendedby many women’s groups and thePolice Executive Research Forum(Loving, 1980) of treating theviolence as a criminal offensesubject to arrest.If the purpose of police responsesto domestic violence calls is toreduce the likelihood of thatviolence recurring, the questionis which of these approaches ismore effective than the others?
Policing Domestic Assaults
Police have been typicallyreluctant to make arrests fordomestic violence (Berk andLoseke, 1981), as well as for awide range of other kinds of offenses, unless a victimdemands an arrest, a suspectinsults an officer, or other factorsare present (Sherman, 1980).Parnas’ (1972) observations of the Chicago police found fourcategories of police action inthese situations: negotiating orotherwise “talking out” thedispute; threatening thedisputants and then leaving;asking one of the parties to leavethe premises, or, very rarely,making an arrest.Similar patterns are found inmany other cities. Surveys of battered women who tried tohave their domestic assailantsarrested report that arrestoccurred in only ten percent (Roy,1977:35) or three percent (seeLangley and Levy, 1977:219) of the cases. Surveys of policeagencies in Illinois (Illinois LawEnforcement Commission, 1978)and New York (Office of theMinority Leader, 1978) foundexplicit policies against arrest inthe majority of the agencies
 Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment Police Foundation ReportsPage 2 of 13 April 1984
surveyed. Despite the fact thatviolence is reported to be presentin one-third (Bard and Zacker,1974) to two-thirds (Black, 1980)of all domestic disturbancespolice respond to, policedepartment data show arrests inonly five percent of thosedisturbances in Oakland (Hart,n.d., cited in Meyer and Lorimer,1977:21), six percent of thosedisturbances in a Colorado city(Patrick, Ellis, and Hoffmeister,n.d., cited in Meyer and Lorimer,1977:21), and six percent in Los Angeles County (Emerson, 1979).The best available evidence onthe frequency of arrest is theobservations from the Black andReiss study of Boston,Washington, and Chicago policein 1966 (Black, 1980:182). Policeresponding to disputes in thosecities made arrests in 27 percentof violent felonies and 17 percentof the violent misdemeanors. Among married couples (Black,1980:158), they made arrests in26 percent of the cases, but triedto remove one of the parties in 38percent of the cases.The apparent preference of manypolice for separating the partiesrather than arresting theoffender has been attacked fromtwo directions over the past 15years. The original critique camefrom clinical psychologists whoagreed that police should rarelymake arrests (Potter, 1978:46;Fagin, 1978:123-124) in domesticassault cases and argued thatpolice should mediate thedisputes responsible for theviolence. A highly publicizeddemonstration project teachingpolice special counseling skills forfamily crisis intervention (Bard,1970) failed to show a reductionin violence, but was interpretedas a success nonetheless. By1977, a national survey of policeagencies with 100 or moreofficers found that over 70percent reported a family crisisintervention training program inoperation. Although it is notclear whether these programsreduced separation and increasedmediation, a decline in arrestswas noted for some (Wylie, et al.,1976). Indeed, many soughtexplicitly to
the number of arrests (University of Rochester,1974; Ketterman and Kravitz,1978).By the mid-1970s, policepractices were criticized from theopposite direction by feministgroups. Just as psychologistssucceeded in having many policeagencies respond to domesticviolence as “half social work andhalf police work,” feminists beganto argue that police put “toomuch emphasis on the socialwork aspect and not enough onthe criminal” (Langley and Levy,1977:218). Widely publicizedlawsuits in New York andOakland sought to compel policeto make arrests in every case of domestic assault, and statelegislatures were lobbiedsuccessfully to reduce theevidentiary requirements neededfor police to make arrests formisdemeanor domestic assaults.Some legislatures are nowconsidering statutes requiringpolice to make arrests in thesecases.The feminist critique wasbolstered by a study (PoliceFoundation, 1976) showing thatfor 85 percent of a sample of spouse killings, police hadintervened at least once in thepreceding two years. For 54percent of those homicides, policehad intervened five or moretimes. But it was impossible todetermine from the data whethermaking more or fewer arrestswould have reduced the homiciderate.
How the Experiment Was Designed
In order to find which policeapproach was most effective indeterring future domesticviolence, the Police Foundationand the Minneapolis PoliceDepartment agreed to conduct aclassic experiment. A classic experiment is aresearch design that allowsscientists to discover the effectsof one thing on another byholding constant all otherpossible causes of those effects.The design of the experimentcalled for a lottery selection,which ensured that there wouldbe no difference among the threegroups of suspects receiving thedifferent police responses (Cookand Campbell, 1979). The lotterydetermined which of the threeresponses police officers woulduse on each suspect in a domesticassault case. According to thelottery, a suspect would bearrested, or sent from the sceneof the assault for eight hours, orgiven some form of advice, whichcould include mediation at anofficer’s discretion. In thelanguage of the experiment,these responses were called thearrest, send, and advisetreatments. The design called fora six-month follow-up period tomeasure the frequency andseriousness of any futuredomestic violence in all cases inwhich the police intervened.The design applied only to simple(misdemeanor) domesticassaults, where both the suspectand the victim were presentwhen the police arrived. Thus,the experiment included onlythose cases in which police wereempowered, but not required, tomake arrests under a recentlyliberalized Minnesota state law.
 Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment Police Foundation ReportsPage 3 of 13 April 1984
The police officer must haveprobable cause to believe that acohabitant or spouse hasassaulted the victim within thepast four hours. Police need nothave witnessed the assault.Cases of life-threatening orsevere injury, usually labeled asa felony (aggravated assault),were excluded from the design.The design called for each officerto carry a pad of report forms,color coded for the three differentpolice responses. Each time theofficers encountered a situationthat fit the experiment’s criteria,they were to take whateveraction was indicated by thereport form on the top of the pad.The forms were numbered andarranged for each officer in anorder determined by the lottery.The consistency of the lotteryassignment was to be monitoredby research staff observers ridingon patrol for a sample of evenings. After a police action was taken atthe scene of a domestic violenceincident, the officer was to fill outa brief report and give it to theresearch staff for follow-up. As afurther check on the lotteryprocess, the staff logged in thereports in the order in which theywere received and made surethat the sequence correspondedto the original assignment of responses. Anticipating something of thebackground of victims in theexperiment, a predominantlyminority, female research staff was employed to contact thevictims for a detailed, face-to-faceinterview, to be followed bytelephone follow-up interviewsevery two weeks for 24 weeks.The interviews were designedprimarily to measure thefrequency and seriousness of victimizations caused by asuspect after police intervention.The research staff also collectedcriminal justice reports thatmentioned suspect’s namesduring the six-month follow-upperiod.
Conduct of theExperiment
 As is common in fieldexperiments, the actual researchprocess in Minneapolis sufferedsome slippage from the originalplan. This section recounts thedifficulties encountered inconducting the experiment.None of these difficulties,however, proved finallydetrimental to the experiment’svalidity.In order to gather data as quicklyas possible, the experiment wasoriginally located in two of Minneapolis’ four precincts, thosewith the highest density of domestic violence crime reportsand arrests. The 34 officersassigned to those areas wereinvited to a three-day planningmeeting and asked to participatein the study for one year. All butone agreed. The conference alsoproduced a draft order for Chief  Anthony Bouza’s signaturespecifying the rules of theexperiment. These rules createdseveral new situations to beexcluded from the experiment,including whether a suspectattempted to assault policeofficers, a victim persistentlydemanded an arrest, or bothparties were injured. Theseadditional exceptions allowed forthe possibility that the lotteryprocess would be violated morefor the separation and mediationtreatments than for the arresttreatment. However, a statisticalanalysis showed that thesechanges posed no threat to thevalidity of the experiment’sfindings.The experiment began on March17, 1981. The expectation wasthat it would take about one yearto produce about 300 cases. Infact, the experiment ran until August 1, 1982, and produced314 case reports. The officersagreed to meet monthly withLawrence W. Sherman, theproject director, and NancyWester, the project manager. Bythe third or fourth month, twofacts became clear: Only about15 to 20 officers either werecoming to meetings or turning incases and the rate at which thecases were turned in would makeit difficult to complete the projectin one year. By November, it wasdecided to recruit more officers inorder to obtain cases morerapidly. Eighteen additionalofficers joined the project. Butlike the original group, most of these officers turned in only oneor two cases. Indeed, three of theoriginal officers produced almost28 percent of the cases, in partbecause they worked aparticularly violent beat and inpart because they had a greatercommitment to the study. statistical analysis showed thatthe effects of police actions didnot vary according to whichofficer was involved. Since thelottery was by officer, thiscondition created no validityproblem for the cases in thestudy.There is little doubt that many of the officers occasionally failed tofollow fully the experimentaldesign. Some of the failures weredue to forgetfulness, such asleaving report pads at home or atthe police station. Other failuresderived from misunderstandingabout whether the experimentapplied in certain situations;application of experimental rules

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