Thursday, November 22, 2018

Reducing domestic violence

Domestic violence - behind palm trees and quiet suburban streets
 - photo Google Earth

by Gregory Saville

Every now and then it is worth examining the mechanics of successful crime reduction programs to see what parts work best. With that in mind, I was impressed by this year’s International Problem-Oriented Policing conference in Providence, Rhode Island. As a regular presenter at the conference, I am always encouraged by the remarkable finalists in the prestigious Herman Goldstein Award program for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing.

This year's Goldstein Award winner was a two-time winner, the Chula Vista police department, who developed a project to reduce domestic violence in that city. (They also won the award ten years ago)

Suburban Chula Vista, south of San Diego - photo Google Earth

A few miles south of downtown San Diego lies the small city of Chula Vista, population 267,000. Over the past few years, calls to police for domestic violence (DV) persisted as the second most common occurrence. At a time when total police calls dropped 10%, domestic violence stubbornly refused to budge.

Like many other police agencies, the cops in Chula Vista had already partnered with a domestic violence advocacy organization to provide 24/7 joint services, but even this did not stem the tide of violence inside the home.

In collaboration with researcher Deborah Lamm Weisel and police crime analysts Nanci Plouffe, Kristen Miggans, and Karen Schmerler, the team began examining the problem in detail. It’s notable that Karen was also the lead analyst with the Chula Vista team that won their 2009 award. (Obviously, a major part of prevention success includes talented analysts like Karen who know how to put programs together).

Chula Vista police HQ


In addition to analysing a wide array of data, they also included informal research by a Chula Vista officer who conducted follow-up visits with some domestic violence victims. All that data provided crucial facts about victims and offenders in Chula Vista and gave them the necessary context. As we say in SafeGrowth, diagnosis must precede prescription because context is everything!

The Chula Vista team also discovered how three other police jurisdictions had successfully implemented a graduated response to DV, now termed focused deterrence. They tailored their own graduated response program and, tellingly, a large number of patrol officers eagerly asked to join the program, mostly from frustration about ineffective traditional responses.

Graduated response is based on an elevated approach to each subsequent call for domestic violence. Since many domestic homicides emerge after repeated DV incidents, the graduated response provides officers a consistent way to intervene in the cycle sooner, not later. If more than one DV call emerges, each subsequent call is met by deeper interventions, from education and counseling to progressively stricter responses.

Early intervention educational material for a graduated response

The Chula Vista crime analysts assessed the results after a year. When they measured the results they found DV finally dropped by 23%. Calls for police service also declined unlike the nearby control area where both incidents and calls worsened. Their data collection allowed them to discount possible displacement to that nearby control area.

The Chula Vista team successfully tailored a new program and made life safer for domestic partners. They helped increase public confidence in police and increased officer safety by cutting domestic incidents.

Most importantly, especially for the children, relatives and friends of domestic partners, they cut the fact and the risk of domestic violence in their city.

Congratulations to the Chula Vista team and their partners.