Transforming an Agency to Respond to Domestic Violence

photo of a woman with a black eye and a finger over her lips
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and although domestic violence awareness is not meant to be a once a year subject, October offers a kick-start to the national conversation on the prevention and response to domestic violence. The first Domestic Violence Awareness Month in 1987 evolved from the first Day of Unity observed by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in October 1981. The purpose was to create collaborations, partnerships, and awareness to end violence against women and their children. 1

Reduced to the basics, domestic violence is when the dominant partner exerts power and control over the other party through the use of abusive behavior, involving physical, sexual, emotional, economical, and/or psychological actions or threats.2 It is important to note that domestic violence is not just restricted to a husband hurting his wife; domestic violence extends beyond this traditional notion to include the reverse situation of female on male violence, as well as same-sex relationships. The power imbalance between two partners either can lean toward abuse or be rectified to create a healthy relationship.

How big is the problem?

The most conservative statistics show that violence against women is happening at epidemic levels; these crimes are happening to women all over the world and at a higher rate than people realize. According to the United Nations UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign, “up to 70 percent of women experience violence in their lifetime.”3 A woman between the ages of 14 and 44 is more at risk of being a victim of rape and domestic violence than receiving a diagnosis of cancer, being involved in a car accident, being in a war, or contracting malaria.4 According to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, almost 22 million women in the United States have been raped, or about 1 in 5 women.5 Just in the United States alone, intimate partner violence costs exceed $5.8 billion per year from direct medical and healthcare costs, and indirect productivity losses.6 In terms of officer safety, the Federal Bureau of Investigation found that between 1999 and 2008, out of the 530 officers killed, 14 percent were responding to a domestic disturbance call.7 During that same period, 31 percent of the more than half a million officers assaulted were responding to a disturbance call.8 One of the reasons that there is not more outrage about these numbers is that society seems to almost expect that this is going to happen, that it is just human nature. That, however, is not the case, and with these startling statistics the problem cannot be ignored.

Organizational Transformation

photo of a woman with a man's hand over her mouthInfusing the practice of community policing into traditional reactive policing will only enhance an agency’s response to and effect upon domestic violence. Building partnerships, using problem solving methods, and transforming the agency into a proactive institution will benefit all. Through community policing, the entire community becomes an active stakeholder in reducing domestic violence. Although creating partnerships and utilizing problem solving are common responses by agencies, most fail to implement organizational transformation due to its difficulty.

True organizational transformation should run throughout the agency and involve every individual, sworn and civilian. The community views law enforcement officers as role models. For this reason, officers need to take these issues seriously, through their roles in prevention and the way in which the agencies respond as a whole, which in turn will show the community the importance of these crimes. Community policing has the capability of bridging the gap between detectives, patrol, and the community by building relationships and creating more effective responses. This role starts with the culture that is already present within the agencies. If a supervisor or chief hears his or her officers’ joke around about abuse, and does nothing, this just cements the lack of gravity given to those crimes. It is easy to ignore these jokes, but the implications for the crime, and involved parties, are much more severe. Law enforcement executives need to show that the entire agency takes these issues seriously, and that making light of these issues will not be tolerated. This carries forward to the response that law enforcement shows the community. If officers receive repeated domestic disturbance calls for a particular house but do nothing about the violence, what kind of message is this to the neighborhood and community? Perpetrators are seeing that they can commit violence and that nothing will happen to them, thus perpetuating these behaviors into the next generation.

A comparable metaphor to this cultural effect is speeding. Most people do not drive the exact speed limit, simply because they know not every person is stopped for speeding. The more often drivers avoid being stopped from speeding while seeing others do the same, just reinforces the behavior of speeding. This can be applied to assault and abuse.9 When individuals in the community get away with the violence, they continue their behavior because they know they are going to get away with it. The message going out to the community is “keep doing what you are doing.”

An agency that prioritizes domestic violence cases and takes them seriously will not only benefit the community but will also be able to work effectively with other stakeholders in the community and bring about change. For this reason, the COPS Office is pleased to announce that one of the 2013 Community Policing Development Microgrant projects will be the “High Point Offender Focused Domestic Violence Initiative (OFDVI) Evaluation,” awarded to High Point (North Carolina) Police Department. The award will fully evaluate the OFDVI, which identifies domestic violence offenders, takes advantage of low-level contacts with offenders, and gets their attention ahead of time to help change their behavior. This initiative directly communicates strongly with the most dangerous offenders, ensuring swift and effective consequences for future violence, keeps the community safer, and makes domestic violence the responsibility of the larger community.

Nazmia E. Alqadi
The COPS Office

1 National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Domestic Violence Awareness Month”
2 As referenced by the Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women.
3 Violence Against Women, (New York: UN Department of Public Information, 2011).
4 Ibid.
5 M.C. Black, et al., The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report (Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011).
6 Violence Against Women, (New York: UN Department of Public Information, 2011).
7 Aaron Aupperlee, “Police say calls for domestic disturbances are fraught with danger,” Michigan Live, March 13, 2010.
8 Aaron Aupperlee, “Police say calls for domestic disturbances are fraught with danger.” Michigan Live, March 13, 2010.
9 The author thanks Joseph Vess for this excellent metaphor.

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