Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Understanding Your Local Problem

Notwithstanding its decline over the last decade, domestic violence stubbornly remains a frequent call for police, and efforts to further reduce it require general and specific information about the nature of the problem. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.

Stakeholders

In addition to criminal justice agencies, the following groups have an interest in the domestic violence problem and ought to be considered for the contribution they might make to gathering information about the problem and responding to it:

  • domestic abuse protection, counseling, and advocacy organizations
  • medical providers
  • public health agencies
  • employers
  • schools (if school-aged children are affected)
  • university faculty and research staff
  • clergy

Asking the Right Questions

The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your community’s domestic violence problem, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.

Aggregate data is an important source for analyzing your domestic violence problem, but it is useful only if domestic violence incidents are properly investigated and documented. It is important for investigating officers to understand the context and history of domestic assaults to determine if the incident is part of a series of abuse the victim has sustained and if it’s likely to recur or escalate to more serious violence. For instance, in assessing individual incidents it is important to find out how long the abuse has been occurring, the frequency of the abuse, if the abuse is escalating, specific threats (even threats of suicide), whether threats can be carried out or there is an indication that they will be carried out, and whether victimization also involves other criminal behavior (i.e., harassing phone calls, vandalism, theft, burglary). You should analyze a variety of data sources such as calls for police service relating to domestic disputes, offense/incident reports of domestic violence, and databases from domestic abuse social service agencies.

Victims

  • What percentage of the total number of calls for police service in your jurisdiction is for domestic violence? What percentage of crime cases is for domestic violence (including stalking, vandalism, trespassing, harassment, restraining order violations, etc.)?

    † Initial call takers may not have sufficient information to accurately determine whether or not domestic violence occurred. Consequently, call for service data will likely not be adequate to distinguish violent from non-violent domestic disputes. Police may need to refine call disposition codes to distinguish between different types of domestic disputes.

  • What percentage of domestic dispute calls in your jurisdiction involves physical abuse? What percentage involves only verbal abuse?
  • What percentage of domestic violence victims are women in your jurisdiction? What percentage are men?
  • What percentage of domestic violence calls is unfounded?
  • What percentage of domestic violence calls involves a repeat victim?

    † When assessing repeat victimization levels it is recommended that police use a rolling 12-month period (nothing less), which means looking for victimizations of the same person for the preceding 12 months, as opposed to simply looking for victimizations of the same person by calendar year (Bridgeman and Hobbs, 1997). Also, be alert to name changes among victims that might conceal a repeat victimization pattern. For further guidance, see Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 4, Analyzing Repeat Victimization.

  • What is the average time between calls from repeat victims?
  • How many victims account for two calls to the police over a 12-month period? Three calls? Four calls? Five calls? More than five calls?
  • What percentage of victims is pregnant at the time of assault?
  • What percentage of domestic violence calls involves a current intimate? What percentage of calls involves a former intimate? What percentage of crime cases involves a current intimate versus former intimate?
  • What percentage of domestic violence calls involves the following types of relationships: married and living together, live-in unmarried, separated, divorced, never married, never married but child in common, dating?
  • When was the violence most serious (while dating, when living together, upon breakup)?
  • What percentage of domestic violence victims actually leaves their abuser after police respond?
  • What is the average age of reported domestic violence victims in the jurisdiction?
  • What is the percentage of domestic violence victims who are homeless?

Offenders

† You should review one year’s worth of domestic violence cases from two years prior. For instance, if the current calendar year is 2006, review the results of domestic assault cases from the calendar year 2004. The two-year gap allows agencies to follow offenders from arrest to sentencing and even the participation in and completion of treatment.

  • In what percentage of cases are restraining orders violated?
  • What parts of restraining orders are most violated (phone calls, distance from victim, etc.)?
  • What percentage of offenders is arrested at the scene? What percentage is arrested at a later date? What is the average amount of time between the domestic violence crime report and the arrest when an offender left before the police arrived?
  • What percentage of domestic violence incidents results in the arrest of both parties?
  • What percentage of offenders has prior arrest records? What are the most common prior arrests for?
  • What percentage of offenders is on probation, parole, or bail at the time of the incidents?
  • What percentage of cases is disposed the day of arraignment?
  • What percentage of arrested offenders is prosecuted?
  • What percentage of misdemeanor and felony arrestees is kept in custody through the different stages of the adjudicatory process?
  • What percentage of domestic violence felony arrests is dropped to misdemeanors by prosecutors?
  • What percentage of offenders pleads guilty?
  • What percentage of offenders is sentenced to prison for felony assault conviction?
  • What percentage of offenders convicted of a misdemeanor is given jail time?
  • Of those given jail time for a felony, what percentage re-assaults their former partner upon release?
  • Of those given jail time for a misdemeanor, what percentage re-assaults their former partner upon
    release?
  • What percentage of offenders is sentenced to alternatives to prison or jail (such as treatment
    programs or electronic monitoring)?
  • What percentage of offenders sentenced to court-mandated treatment completes the treatment?
  • What percentage of “treated” offenders re-offends against their former partner?

Incidents

  • How many domestic violence calls per year involve physical violence? Is it on an increasing trend line, a
    decreasing trend line, or stable?
  • What percentage of domestic violence calls to police is placed by victims? By neighbors, friends, employers, or children of victims?
  • What percentage of domestic violence incidents involves the man as the primary aggressor? The woman?
  • How many phone calls do domestic violence hotlines in your area receive annually? Is there a pattern to the calls (days of week, times of day, repeat victims calling)?

Locations/Times

  • When do domestic violence incidents commonly occur? During child custody exchanges? When the victim or offender returns home to collect belongings after the other party has moved out? On certain days of the week? Days of the month? Times of the day? Are patrol officers aware of these patterns?
  • Where do domestic violence incidents commonly occur? Are there particular places such as apartment complexes or mobile home parks where incidents involving different victims and offenders commonly occur?

Current Responses

  • What do the police department and other local agencies do to encourage victims to report domestic violence to the police?
  • Are community support services adequate to address the counseling, housing, employment, childcare, substance abuse, emergency financial, and transportation needs of victims and child witnesses? Are these services easily accessible to victims?
  • What percentage of domestic violence victims
    actually follows up with referral services?
  • What is the average nightly number of domestic violence victims that local women’s shelters house? What percentage of the victims in the shelters called the police to report the physical abuse? What is the average length of stay? What follow-up do these shelters provide once a victim leaves the shelter? Is there a sufficient number of shelter beds in the community for victims who exit abusive relationships?
  • What is the current police agency policy regarding domestic violence incidents?
  • What is the current prosecution policy regarding domestic violence incidents?
  • Is treatment available? If so, what kind of treatment is it, and has it been evaluated?

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. (For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.)

Impact measures gauge the degree to which you reduced the harms caused by the problem. Process measures gauge the degree to which you implemented responses as planned. A good assessment employs both impact and process measures.

Impact Measures

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to domestic violence:

  • reduced number of actual incidents of domestic violence
  • reduced number of domestic violence calls involving repeat victims
  • reduced number of repeat offenders
  • reduced frequency of battering by repeat offenders (longer time intervals between physical abuse)
  • reduced percentage of domestic violence offenders who re-offend during or after treatment.

Process Measures

The following are potentially useful measures of the extent to which you implemented your planned responses:

  • increased number of chronic or severe batterers incarcerated
  • increased percentage of victims using referral services
  • increased percentage of domestic violence calls to police being made by victims, as opposed to other parties
  • increased information about repeat victimization from more comprehensive victim interviews and records review
  • increased official follow-up with repeat victims and repeat offenders
  • increased medical screening of women for domestic violence victimization
  • increased percentage of domestic violence arrests resulting in a conviction
  • reduced amount of time between arrest and conviction
  • reduced percentage of incidents where both parties are arrested
  • increased partnering with researchers to design evaluation of efforts
  • increased availability of customized batterer treatment programs.