Building On Past Successes The High Point Police Department Takes on Domestic Violence
By Marty A. Sumner, Chief of High Point Police Department
Domestic Violence (DV) is a crime problem for law enforcement that involves a high volume of calls, repeated calls to the same location, consumes large amounts of time and often results in injuries or death. In High Point, DV disturbance calls are consistently the number one call for service averaging more than 5,000 a year. The most tragic result of DV is of course homicide. Since 2004 there have been 16 domestic related homicides in High Point, including three cases of murder/suicide where the suspect killed his partner and then turned the gun on himself. Traditional efforts to control the most violent offenders and reduce the harms to victims have not been effective. Despite the department’s pro-arrest policy, aggressive prosecution, and the existence of domestic 50B protection orders the situation persists year after year. It is time for an innovative approach to the problem of controlling the domestic violence offender.
When members of the High Point Police Department’s executive staff met with Professor David M. Kennedy he posed the question, “are these domestic violence offenders resisting our best efforts?” The overwhelming answer was NO. So what would our bests efforts look like? Kennedy, the Director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, believes the focused deterrence approach proven effective at controlling gang, gun and drug related violence in High Point could be the answer. Kennedy suggests that not enough attention has been paid to controlling the offender. Traditional approaches have been victim-focused with heavy emphasis on helping the victim avoid patterns of abuse, disengage from abusers and physically removing themselves from abusive settings. What if in addition to providing services for the victim we used very focused formal and informal sanctions against the offender? Can the domestic violence offender be held accountable with real predictable consequences? These are the questions the partnership in High Point has set out to answer.
The executive staff of the High Point Police Department has formed a partnership with researchers, practitioners, prosecutors and community; to develop, implement and evaluate a focused deterrence initiative targeted at the chronic domestic violence offender. Despite the widespread belief that DV is different from other types of violence and is evenly spread across society, research shows it is not. Our analysis of ten years of arrest data tells us the repeat DV offender in High Point has a lengthy criminal history beyond domestic assaults. In fact, their criminal histories were similar to the gang and drug offenders notified by the Violent Crime Task Force. The DV offenders studied averaged 10 arrests, assaults were the predominant charge but all included assaults other than for DV and 93% were unemployed. Since these offenders have rich criminal histories and are known to the criminal justice system they can be identified based on past behavior. Once selected an “A” list (the most violent) can be targeted for prosecution and used as examples to the “B” list (those targeted for intervention). During a face-to-face intervention/notification, police, prosecutors and community can lay out the levers that will be pulled for future acts of DV. Intense tracking and follow through with the victims and the offenders will be necessary to measure impact.
This will be the first time any city attempts to apply Professor Kennedy’s deterrence strategies to the problem of domestic violence. It is our hope that High Point can once again be a national model for law enforcement and communities in the way DV is reduced.