Nearly two decades ago, the United States criminal justice systems were revolutionized after the amendment of mandatory and pro-arrest policies in state and municipal police agencies. These policies required officers to take a suspect into custody each time their assistance was required at a domestic dispute. Prior to the amendment of mandatory arrest policies, legal and social institutions took a “hands-off approach” to domestic violence. The battered women’s movement of the 1970s finally brought the issue of intimate violence into the public eye by “providing services for victims, creating and strengthening domestic violence legislation, and generally improving the criminal justice system’s responses to woman battering (Miller, Peterson 2007). During the 1980s, police departments began shifting to mandatory and pro-arrest policies to combat the constant scrutiny for their lack of action towards domestic dispute perpetrators (Miller, Peterson 2007). Lately, mandatory arrest policies have became scrutinized due to their inability to protect victims of domestic violence and even have unforeseen consequences against victims of color and low-income economic status (Miller, Peterson 2007). Due to the newly discovered negative consequences, mandatory arrest policies should not be practiced by state and municipal police departments in the United States.
During their development, mandatory and pro-arrest policies seemed to serve communities in several positive ways. First, these policies gave battered women more support and psychological strength because it showed that battering and abusing women would not be tolerated. Second, mandatory arrest policies clarified police roles “by providing more guidance and training.” Third, mandatory arrest policies made making an arrest clearer by removing the discretionary part of the decision process of whether an officer makes an arrest or not. This alone was a tremendous positive due to the fact that race, class, and other socioeconomic factors were taken out of the equation of whether or not an arrest is made. Lastly, research has shown a positive correlation between mandatory arrest policies and a decrease in recidivism by arrested offenders. For example, homicides due to domestic violence decreased from twelve percent to one percent within the first six months of mandatory arrest policies being initiated in Newport News, Virginia (Miller, Peterson 2007).
Despite their positive results, recent research has shown that mandatory arrest policies are much more flawed than lawmakers have expected. Because victims may suffer from “learned helplessness,” a mandatory arrest policy may not do anything for them. “Learned helplessness” is a social theory stating that a victim has “learned through repeated failure that they cannot control their destiny” (Belknap 2007). If a victim suffers from “learned helplessness,” they may not be able to see the alternative options when their batterer has been removed from the house. When this is the case, a mandatory arrest of a batterer will do nothing for them over a long period of time, but is more of a short term solution.
Another negative outcome of mandatory arrest policies is the apathy and routine nature police officers display during a domestic violence arrest. Mandatory arrest policies have provided officers with more training and guidance for identifying and deciding who the aggressor is in a domestic dispute, but research has shown that this training has made an officer rely more on department regulations than his own discretion and instinct. In a study in Connecticut, research found that 33% of domestic disputes ended in a dual-arrest (Hirschel et al). A dual-arrest occurs when police are unable to decide who the offender is in the situation. Although it may seem to be a better alternative than arresting no one, the victim may lose their faith in a department for being falsely arrested. Similar to a drunk-driving arrest, a domestic violence arrest may taint their reputation in their workplace, neighborhood, and other aspects of society. This may lead to not reporting a dispute in the future causing more violence. Within the same study, researchers found that it was actually police department policy to make a dual-arrest in domestic family violence. The purposes of mandatory arrest policies were to help departments and victims alike to identify the aggressors in domestic violence cases, not arrest the victims themselves. In another study in New York, researchers found that nearly 27% of domestic disputes ended in a “no-arrest” because the perpetrator was not at the home after the call was made to the police department. Although a mandatory arrest policy was in effect, police officers did not follow up to make an arrest (Frye, Haviland, Rajah 2007).
Belknap, J. (2007). The invisible woman. Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education.
Frye, V., Haviland, M., & Rajah, V. (2007). Dual arrest and other unintended consequences of mandatory arrest in new york city: a brief report. Journal of Family Violence, 22, 397-407.
Hirschel, D., Buzawa, E., Pattavina, A., & Fagianni, D. (2008). Domestic violence and mandatory arrest laws: to what extent do they influence police arrest decisions?. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 98(1), 255-298.
Miller, S., & Peterson, E. (2007). The impact of law enforcement policies on victims of intimate partner violence. It's a Crime: Women and Justice, 4th, 238-260.