Police Response to Domestic Violence Essay

In 2005, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that 1,181 females were killed by an intimate partner. That means everyday, 3 women are killed as a result of domestic violence. These overwhelming statistics also state that out of all the women murdered in the United States, one out of three of the murders are the direct result of an intimate partner. Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior that includes whether sexual, emotional or physically, that is imposed by a partner in an intimate relationship.

This has been a major problem in the United States and for decades domestic violence continues to increase.

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We acknowledge that domestic violence continues to be an epidemic on the rise. According to Eve S. Buzawa and Carl G. Buzawa, reform of police action in domestic assault cases has been a recurrent theme for twenty years (Dunham & Albert, 2010, pg.137). Unfortunately, the traditional police response involving domestic violence assaults still seems to take precedent. Law enforcement maintains their reactive approach by means of avoiding interventions, screening out calls or sustaining the attitude that domestic violence is not a real crime.

Nevertheless, the issue regarding the lack of presence and concern for domestic violence victims goes beyond the stereotypical reasons why law enforcement do not take a more proactive approach. The reasons may include personal attitudes, lack of training or even fear. However, when domestic cases involve minorities, law enforcement has been known to become suspiciously bias. Nonetheless, domestic violence is not only limited to
male and female relationships. Homosexuals are also involved in domestic violence disputes as well and officers particularly avoid intervention in these cases even more than heterosexual relationships.

In this report, we will explore the different characteristics involving police responses to domestic violence, the reasons why law enforcement hesitate in their response, and the different statistics involving intervention in heterosexual, homosexual and minority households.

Avoiding Intervention

We have acknowledged through many texts and the experience of our fellow officers that police work is a very mundane profession. The highlights we visualize on television shows are mostly for entertainment purposes. In reality, police work consists of domestic violence interventions, which also includes cases of drug abuse. Unfortunately, police interventions in domestic violence cases still lack a proactive response.

Although today Domestic Violence intervention still needs to be revised in making calls of service more productive, it was not until the early 1970’s when making an arrest for felonies without a warrant were not legal (Doak, 2010, pg. 150). Only fourteen of those states allowed the same protocol for misdemeanors and since assault and battery is a misdemeanor, victims were forced to make their own criminal charges, which resulted in lack of arrests and lack of making a report (Doak, 2010, pg. 150). Fortunately since 2006, new legislature has authorized warrant less probable cause for misdemeanor arrests in all states concerning domestic violence cases (Doak, 2010, pg. 150) but law enforcement continues to show a lack of enthusiasm in making arrests.

According to authors, Roger G. Dunham and Geoffrey P. Albert, there are several reasons concerning the reluctance to respond to domestic violence calls. The common issues that involve law enforcements lack of intervention include: Organizational impediments, lack of training, fear of injury and most importantly police attitudes. Domestic violence is misdemeanor, so in result police officers don’t think of this assault as a “real” crime. They avoid making arrest as to conclude that domestic violence is a waste of time. It’s common for police response to a domestic violence situation to lack enthusiasm or prolong making an appearance at all.

However, fear is also an imperative reason that causes law enforcement to hesitate in the involvement of domestic violence cases. Until recently, police officers weren’t aware of the proper protocol in handling domestic violence cases. Also, in many cases the victim can also turn out to be the aggressor when an officer attempts to make an arrest. This can be a convincing deterrent in lack of police response. The most important reason I would like to discuss is police attitudes towards domestic violence cases and victims. The reasons I mention above are all characteristics that contribute to the lack of involvement; however the individual attitude of the officer places much emphasis on their actions.

Victim Statistics

Approximately 1.3 million women are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the United States. In a 1995–1996 study conducted through the fifty states including the District of Columbia, it was found that nearly 25% of women were raped and/or physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, or dating/acquaintance at some time in their lifetime (American Bar Association, 2010). According to the U.S. Department of Justice, between 1998 and 2002, of the almost 3.5 million crimes committed against family members, almost half of these were crimes against spouses. Eighty-four of those spouse abuse victims were females. In 2001, intimate partner violence made up 20% of all nonfatal violent crime experience by women. In 2000, 1,247 women were killed by their intimate partner (American Bar Association, 2010).

Two years ago my best friend was a part of these overwhelming statistics. For nearly three years she found herself in a very abusive relationship with her then boyfriend who is now the father of her three-year-old child. The late night calls I received kept me on edge because I just continued to worry when I was going to get that fatal call that my best friend was dead. There were numerous attempts of escape but like most of these women, “love” can sometimes be a curse. Fortunately, my friend was able to break away from her abuser. Unfortunately, turning to the statistics I mentioned above, all are not so lucky.

Although going through that experience with my best friend was one of the hardest things in my life, knowing that there were numerous attempts to seek help from law enforcement to only be ignored angered me more. As I discussed before, police officers are not concerned with victims of domestic violence. At least that’s what many victims say including my best friend. Victims are not taken seriously because the misdemeanor crime is not taken seriously. Regardless of your race, being a victim of an intimate partner relationship continues to get the back seat. Studies have shown that certain characteristics do play a significant part of how a police officer will act to an individual call for service. In cases of domestic violence police attitudes towards women, different races, and even sexual preference has played a detailed part between making arrests and telling an abuser to just take a walk and cool off.

Victim Characteristics

“One in three women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime…” said Kathy Doherty, an executive director of an association named Between Friends (Chaney, K., 2008). It is very disturbing to be aware of these statistics and still lack the support from law enforcement to take the matters seriously. It’s even more unsettling to know that your race will play a significant role in how a police officer will exercise his/her own discretion.

In studies I have read, theorists believe that when we evaluate the relationship between domestic violence victims and police response, institutional racism becomes a term widely used to define the relationship. According to the Macpherson Report’s definition:

‘Institutional Racism consists of the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their color, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behavior which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people’ (Belur, J., 2008, pg. 428).

According to Amanda L. Robinson and Megham S. Chandek, authors of Differential Police Response to Black Battered Women, stated “not only are colored women . . . handicapped on account of their sex, but they are almost everywhere baffled and mocked because of their race. Not only because they are women, but because they are colored women” (Chandek, M. S., & Robinson, A. L., (2000), pg. 30). Institutionalized racism is the very plague that has made police responses to domestic violence calls for service ineffective. Minority ethic women have not been treated fairly involving many accounts including sexism and racism. Today, gender and ethnic backgrounds are reasons for their complaints to be handled “differently”. According to reports made by the National Crime Victimization Survey and the FBI (homicide reports), Black females experienced domestic violence at a rate 35% higher than that of white females, and about 22 times the rate of women of other races (Newton, C.J. 2009).

Minority Women are not the only class that suffers from discrimination when evaluating proactive police response. The LGBT community has also been a victim of sexism when seeking assistance from law enforcement in domestic violence cases. Take this example from the article, Stonewalled: Police Abuse and Misconduct Against Lesbian, Gay and Transgender People in the U.S.:

A gay Filipino man was reportedly beaten on several occasions by his partner, a white U.S. citizen, who was reportedly addicted to drugs and alcohol. When police responded to one altercation, they reportedly arrested the Filipino man and threatened to report him to immigration authorities, saying: “You’re not a citizen. We should deport you, you shouldn’t be hitting Americans; you’re not an American.” The Filipino man was sentenced to 52 weeks of batterer’s intervention in court (Amnesty International USA, 2010)

This type of injustice is unacceptable especially in a place where our Victims Rights and Human Rights are supposed to protect us. Ethnic backgrounds, gender or sex should never play a significant role in how a police officer addresses a call for service in a domestic violence case or any case. Institutional Racism must be abolished from our practices of handling violent victim’s cases regardless of certain characteristics of the victim.

Changes for Reform

Luckily, we as a nation have come forward to not only address the problems involving police response in domestic violence cases but to also promote a solution. There have been committees and social groups, such as Battered Women Advocates, who have helped to spread the awareness of domestic violence. Also the Minneapolis Domestic Violence experiment (1981-1982) has also played a significant part in finding a “far more effective way to deter future violence than merely separation of the parties or officer mediation” (Dunham R. G. & Albert, G. P, (2010), pg. 147).

Although assaults and batteries are misdemeanors, provoking public interest in the issue can place unlimited pressures on our criminal justice system. Law enforcement agencies have developed plans and in-service trainings to make officers responding to domestic violence cases more comfortable and aware of their options. Training also leads to a decrease of fear of injury when approaching volatile situations. The most prominent federal response happened in 1994, when the Violence Against Women Act was passed to help the fight to stop violence against women.


Law enforcement plays a vital role in our criminal justice system. Although police officers are just regular citizens in uniform, we still hold them to a higher standard compared to the general public. We must understand that this country as a hold must work together to stop violence against women (or men) and the assistance of the numerous law enforcement agencies is more than needed. This report was designed to shine a light on the many issues surrounding calls for service in domestic violence cases. It’s not to suggest that all police officers are racist, sexist or homo-phobic. However, we must stay on top of the issue to better achieve in the success of stopping institutional racist attitudes. It will always start with that individual who is behind the uniform that is responding to a call. To continue to generate discussion will only make the issue of domestic violence involving police interaction an issue of the past.


American Bar Association. (2010). Commission of Domestic

Violence. Retrieved May 16, 2010, from http://new.abanet.org/domesticviolence/Pages/Statistics.aspx

Amnesty International USA. (2010). Stonewalled: Police Abuse and

Misconduct Against Lesbian, Gay and Transgender People in the U.S. Retrieved May 16, 2010, from http://www.amnestyusa.org/lgbt-human-rights/stonewalled-a-report/police-response/page.do?id=1106617

Belur, Jyoti. (2008). Is policing domestic violence

institutionally racist? A case study of south Asian Women. Policing and Society, Volume 18, Issue 4, pg. 426-444.

Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2009). Prison Statistics.

Retrieved October 27, 2009, from


Chaney, K. (2008). Domestic Violence hits Black Women Harder.

Chicago Defender Online.

Doak, M.J. (2007). Domestic Violence, Law Enforcement, and Court

Responses to Domestic Violence. Child Abuse and Domestic Violence, 147-165.

Dunham, R. G., & Albert, G. P. (2010). Critical Issues in

Policing. Illinois. Waveland Press.

Newton, C, J. (2009). Domestic Violence: An Overview. Retrieved

May 16, 2010, from http://www.findcounseling.com/journal/domestic-violence/domestic-violence-statistics.html

Robinson, A. L., & Chandek, M. S. (2000). Differential Police

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