Specific Deterrence and Mandatory Arrest Policies in Domestic Violence Cases

After years of neglect and the questionable use of police discretion in domestic violence cases, mandatory arrest policies have been implemented in numerous jurisdictions as the appropriate response to such incidents. These mandatory arrest policies are based on the assumption that the temporary removal of the perpetrators of domestic violence through arrest will immediately defuse the domestic violence situation and serve as a specific deterrent by reducing the individual’s potential subsequent abusive behavior.

Previous evaluations of the specific deterrent effect of mandatory arrest policies in Minneapolis and other jurisdictions have yielded mixed results. The original Minneapolis study found that mandatory arrest was more effective than other responses to domestic violence, but these results have not been replicated in other settings.

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One of the major problems in evaluating mandatory arrest policies concerns how best to measure recidivism or rearrest. The private nature of much domestic violence places severe limitations on the accuracy of subsequent police reports of arrest as a valid measure of reoffending behavior. Self-reports of abusive behavior are equally problematic because of the lack of any reason for such offenders to tell the truth. Surveying the victims of domestic violence some time after the initial arrest would seem to be a more defensible strategy, but such surveys are likely to involve sampling bias in that those victims who participate in the survey will be qualitatively different from those who refuse to participate.