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Advocacy and law enforcement: partners against domestic violence.

Domestic disturbances generate some of the most frustrating calls for police officers. Such calls often are repetitious as officers respond to the same homes over and over, take up valuable time that could be spent on other investigative matters, and frequently produce no legal action against offenders.

In the late 1980s, increased public awareness that violence in the home is a criminal matter, not a private one, fueled changes in Massachusetts state law.(1) Under the revised law, officers no longer are restricted to mediating a volatile situation or merely walking the perpetrator around to cool off. Now, officers may arrest a battering spouse on probable cause.

With the burden of pressing charges lifted from the victim, who is often reluctant to proceed against an abusive mate, the number of arrests for domestic violence has increased statewide.(2) Other legislative mandates have enhanced law enforcement's efforts to thwart domestic violence. These include:

* Changes in firearms regulations, which allow for "immediate suspension and surrender (when the order is served) of [the offender's] license to carry firearms and/or [firearms identification] cards as well as any firearms, rifles, shotguns, machine guns, and ammunition...if the plaintiff can demonstrate a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse."(3)

* Bail reform allowing pretrial release of domestic violence offenders to be based on hearings about the defendant's alleged dangerousness(4)

* Special training of officers assigned to domestic violence cases in every police department in the state.(5)

Nevertheless, 5 years after the state legislature enacted these changes, police officers still met victim resistance to arresting their abusive partners. And, even though the number of arrests for domestic violence increased, the number of repeat offenses did not decrease as hoped.

While the revised state laws dramatically increased the tools available to police, law enforcement officials in the cities of Concord and Newton, Massachusetts, felt that something else needed to be done. Officers still left the scene of domestic disturbances frustrated that they could not do more, wondering how to convince a victim to leave.

In the upper middle-class communities of Newton and Concord, police encountered additional obstacles unique to their wealthy suburbs. They found some victims of domestic violence reluctant to call the police because they wanted to preserve appearances (not wanting a patrol car in the driveway); others did not seek help because they doubted that action would be taken against abusers who were influential in the community. The willingness of victims to call police proved contingent on several factors, including whether:

* The incident would be reported in the local newspaper

* Family pressure against disclosure was brought to bear on the victim

* The victim had peer support

* The victim was willing or able to sustain the possible emotional and financial loss associated with disclosure

* The victim perceived negative impact on the perpetrator's job or community standing.

Further, police in Concord and Newton were surprised to find that many well-educated citizens did not believe domestic violence posed a serious problem in their communities. Despite the relative affluence of the citizens in the community, there were fewer resources for battered individuals in suburbia than in the inner city, and individuals at risk seemed reluctant to seek out the available resources for fear of being traced by the abuser.

When victims did choose to contact such crisis intervention services as shelters, counselors, and legal aid, these agencies could be reached only during business hours. This often meant a time lag of as much as 72 hours existed between the violent act and the delivery of ancillary services to the victim.

Due to the complex psychological dynamics underlying domestic abuse, the emotional and economic loss associated with family violence,(6) and the potential lethality of future violence, these communities needed a multilevel response delivered within a critical window of time. Because the responding officer's role ends with arrest and containment of the abuser, police in these two communities looked for help outside their departments to strengthen and improve the total response to the domestic violence call.


The chief of the Concord Police Department (CPD) approached the problem with the community policing philosophy in mind, seeking to be part of the problem-solving process by developing a partnership with residents. The CPD began to collaborate with the Domestic Violence Training and Resource Institute (DVTRI), a local, all-volunteer, nonprofit, grassroots organization that deals specifically with crisis intervention for domestic abuse victims. The neighboring Newton Police Department (NPD) also joined the partnership. Both police departments appointed lieutenants to serve as domestic violence coordinators to oversee the implementation process and act as liaisons with the civilian organization.

Working Together

Whenever people from different disciplines join forces to address an issue, problems can arise from the clash between their divergent mindsets and approaches. The initial task of the partnership between the police and the civilian advocacy group was to identify such problem areas and propose solutions.

Historically, civilian advocacy groups and law enforcement officers have tended to mistrust one another. Most law enforcement personnel have not been trained in the psychological theories of domestic abuse. Likewise, civilians usually do not understand the policies and procedures of basic law enforcement.

In seeking models for interdisciplinary cooperation, neither the domestic violence coordinators nor the DVTRI could find suitable examples. Training curricula and related materials generally were limited to one discipline and did not integrate perspectives from other areas. In addition, like many smaller police departments, the CPD and NPD do not have civilian volunteer programs operating within the station on a 24-hour basis, so concerns arose over security, domain, and space availability.

To overcome these difficulties, the partners sought to build trust among participating groups by forging a style of communication and a method of working together. First, they pioneered a model for policies and procedures, working out the details of the interaction between the police departments and the civilian group. Then, to bridge the gap between the advocacy group and the law enforcement personnel, they devised training curricula that cross traditional role lines. Next, the Concord Police Department provided secure space within the police station accessible to DVTRI peer advocates around the clock. Finally, the partnership established criteria to measure the success of the program in reaching its projected goals.


To take advantage of the expertise and insight of both the civilian domestic violence counselors and the police personnel involved, the partnership established two training programs. One program concentrated on educating police officers about domestic violence, and the other trained civilian volunteers as peer advocates.

For Police Officers

The director of the Domestic Violence Training and Resource Institute devised a 16-hour curriculum for all sworn police personnel in Concord and Newton. The classwork not only addressed the legislative changes regarding spousal abuse but also delved into the underlying issues of domestic violence.

Through role-playing exercises, officers experienced the victim's dilemma by assuming the identity of a battered spouse. These exercises proved highly effective in raising police sensitivity to victims and in curbing the impulse to ask judgmental and blaming questions, such as "Why do you stay with him?" Instead, officers learned how to identify and deal effectively with batterers' controlling and manipulative behaviors.

The training also helped police officers overcome the frustration they typically felt at the scene of a domestic disturbance when they were unable to resolve the crisis. Leaving an abusive partner is a process, not an event. Law enforcement officers, by orientation, respond to crisis events with the expectation of an immediate resolution, but that is an inappropriate expectation for the unique nature of this crime. Officers learned that an interdisciplinary team approach is logical and necessary to address the complex and multiple needs that must be met during a domestic violence crisis and before a victim can safely leave a relationship. This insight provided the extra dimension that police in Concord and Newton had been seeking in their response to domestic violence calls.

For Civilian Volunteers

The DVTRI then recruited and trained a cadre of civilian volunteers for the Certified Peer Advocate Program (CPAP). After extensive character and psychological screening, volunteers attended a rigorous program consisting of 55 hours of classroom instruction, followed by 187 practicum hours. Upon successful completion of the program, volunteers become certified by the DVTRI to work with police and other service providers for victims of domestic violence.

The primary goal of the CPAP is to provide around-the-clock crisis intervention services, victim rights information, and extensive safety planning for domestic violence victims. Safety planning involves reviewing predictable behaviors or actions that occur between the abuser and the victim. The advocate then helps develop a plan of action the victim can take that would lend to her safety. For example, safety plans might include devising an escape route, designating a person to call in the event of an emergency, or locating a safe place to hide keys, money, and important documents. In addition, the CPAP provides ongoing follow-up services for victims; furnishes referrals for legal aid, shelters, and counseling; sends advocates to court with victims of battering; and runs support group services and life skills workshops.

The DVTRI also offers a safe space network for those in need of immediate, short-term shelter. This network of homes scattered throughout several communities provides domestic violence victims a safe place to stay for several days until other accommodations become available. Also, victims in transit who need a place to stay on their way to another destination can use the safe space network.


The partnership between the police and the DVTRI provides services to domestic violence victims in three basic ways. First, when a domestic disturbance call comes into the police department, officers respond to the location and secure the site. Responding officers tell the victim about the available advocacy services. If the victim chooses to obtain the services of a civilian volunteer, the police notify the DVTRI.

Second, victims sometimes do not want to involve the police at their homes. In these instances, the victims can call or visit the police station to request an advocate, or they can contact the DVTRI directly.

Finally, local hospital emergency rooms and other service providers within the communities, including the local clergy, may refer victims to the DVTRI. They may do so with or without the intercession of the police department.


Crisis intervention services can be useful only if the intended recipients know about them, and several avenues provided publicity for the Certified Peer Advocate Program early on. Through direct contact with domestic violence victims, word spread. The local media picked up the stow and reported on the police-civilian advocate partnership.

The participating agencies also developed a pamphlet describing available services and how to obtain them. Many local clergy members who participated in the peer advocate training agreed to keep materials about CPAP in their offices to use when counseling victims. In addition, the Concord Police Department posted the information on its Internet home page.(7)


From a law enforcement perspective, the partnership among the Concord and Newton Police Departments and the DVTRI proved to be a logical and necessary choice. Now, the police can offer victims a range of services - from resource information to emotional support to safety planning - without any critical lapse of time. The partnership has enhanced the services available and increased their accessibility to victims in these suburban communities. It also has helped to educate citizens about the nature and prevalence of domestic violence, a crime that occurs even in their seemingly serene backyards.

The success of this partnership has born statistical fruit already. From April 1994, when the program began, through October 1995, the number of repeat assaults in Concord has dropped 80 percent.(8) While the number of repeat assaults fell, the prosecution rate climbed due to greater willingness of victims, now backed by advocate support, to testify against abusers and to follow through on obtaining restraining orders. In the first 9 months of the partnership, 57 individuals requested the services of a peer advocate. By the end of 1995, more than 350 adults and 450 children had been served by the Certified Peer Advocate Program.

Combining police and civilian resources in this way can generate significant long-term changes in social attitude and behavior. With a unified voice, the police and peer advocates speak the powerful message that domestic violence will not be tolerated.


1 MGL 209A.

2 Susan Schechter and Lisa Klee Mihaly, "Ending Violence Against Women and Children in Massachusetts Families: Critical Steps for the Next Five Years," Massachusetts Coalition of Battered Women Service Groups, November 1992, 1.

3 MGL 209A, Sections 3B, 129B, and 131 CH 140.

4 MGL c. 276, s. 58A; See also Samuel E. Zoll, Chief Justice, District Court, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, "New Law Regarding Bail and Dangerousness," Trial Court of the Commonwealth, District Court Department, August 1994.

5 Scott Harshbarger, Attorney General, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, "Domestic Violence: Strategies for Prevention and Enforcement," Paper presented at Attorney General's Conference, Northeastern University, Burlington, MA, October 21, 1994.

6 Susan F. Turner and Constance Hoenk Shapiro, "Battered Women: Mourning the Death of a Relationship," The National Association of Social Workers, Inc., 1986.

7 The Concord, MA, home page address is

8 Domestic Violence Training and Resource Institute, Annual Report for 1995, Concord, MA.

Ms. Marie P. Defina founded the Domestic Violence Training and Resource Institute, in Concord, Massachusetts, and now serves as its executive director.

Chief Leonard Wetherbee commands the Concord, Massachusetts, Police Department.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Federal Bureau of Investigation
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Author:Wetherbee, Leonard
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Oct 1, 1997
Previous Article:Legitimizing criminal justice policies and practices.
Next Article:Police use of nondeadly force to arrest.

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