Published: July, 2015| Marty A. Sumner, Edited by Stephanie Avalon

The High Point Police Department has been applying the evidence-based focused deterrence approach to the problem of intimate partner violence (IPV).

The High Point strategy addresses the problem at earlier stages of offending before the violence escalates. The first three years of implementation resulted in re-offense rates of only 14% across 1,200+ offenders. These rates for IPV offenders are significant given the rates for IPV offenders in the literature, which range from 30-40%. At the start of this initiative domestic violence calls for service were the highest category of calls. Now, they are the third highest.

 Using an Approach Found Effective with Gang, Gun, and Drug Violence

The idea for High Point’s approach came from Professor David M. Kennedy, the Director of the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Professor Kennedy believes the focused deterrence approach that has proven effective at controlling gang, gun and drug related violence likewise can be adapted to control IPV offenders. Kennedy suggests that not enough attention has been paid to controlling the offender, as traditional approaches have placed heavy emphasis on helping the victim avoid patterns of abuse, on disengaging from abusers, and on physically removing themselves from abusive settings. Kennedy’s hope was that IPV offenders could be held accountable with timely, predictable consequences without creating additional harm to victims.

The Partnership

 In 2009 the High Point Police Department formed a partnership with the High Point Community Against Violence, Guilford County District Attorney’s Office, Family Service of the Piedmont, and University of North Carolina-Greensboro researchers, that took on the challenge to develop, implement and evaluate a focused deterrence initiative targeted at the chronic IPV offender. The partnership established six major goals (listed at the right). Adapting the focused deterrence approach to domestic violence required special attention to victim engagement. At every level of abuse victims receive notification and services.

Program Goals

1) Protect the most vulnerable women from the most dangerous abusers
2) Transfer the burden of addressing abusers from women to state/police
3) Focus deterrence, community standards, outreach and support on most dangerous abusers
4) Counter “experiential effect” (right/wrong lesson learned from experience of other offenders)
5) Take advantage of opportunities provided by offender’s variety of offenses

IPV Offenders Have Lengthy Criminal Records

High Point’s analysis of ten years of arrest data revealed their repeat IPV offender had a lengthy criminal history beyond intimate partner violence. This was similar to the Stearns County, MN investigation of their jail populations. Criminal histories in High Point were similar to the gang and drug offenders the focused deterrence approach had already proven effective at controlling. The IPV offenders they studied averaged 10 arrests. Assaults were the predominant charge, but all included assaults other than for IPV. 93% of offenders were unemployed. With extensive criminal histories, these IPV offenders are clearly known to the criminal justice system. They can be identified based on past behavior.

Four Levels of Offenders and Four Levels of Safety Planning and Support for Victims

High Point’s research identified four very different levels of offenders, which led the team to develop a specific notification and sanction regimen for each level.

Click to enlarge table.

They range from the most violent, who have extensive criminal records, to those contacted on the first call who have never been charged with an IPV offense. A table shows the criteria established to properly match the offender to the response. The most dangerous offenders (A-list) are immediately targeted for arrest and prosecution by any legal means available. This addresses the danger they represent to victims but also acts as an example to other offenders. The next level IPV offenders (B-list) are confronted by a community message that the violence is wrong, a law enforcement message of swift and certain sanctions should they re-offend, and a resource message that help is available should they choose.

Victims are no longer asked if they wish to have the assailant arrested. Offenders are informed that they are flagged in the Police Department’s records management system so future acts of domestic violence can be tracked. They are no longer anonymous. Any re-offense, they are told, will be responded to with swift and certain responses from law enforcement. Victims of all notified offenders are also given the message that their offender has been notified and they are offered support services if they so choose.

This strategy is designed to enact change at all levels of the system through constant monitoring, ongoing feedback from parties involved in the system, and a willingness of system players to be open to criticism and change or affect change in others. Since victims lose confidence in the system when they suffer repeat abuse with little consequence to the offender, the strategy’s ability to target offenders at earlier stages of offending is an important feature. Additional outcomes include higher bonds for notified offenders who then re-offend, lengthier and stiffer sentences for convicted IPV offenders, and changes in processes within the criminal justice system.

Addressing the Goals

Chief Marty Sumner believes when an offender sees that nothing happens to a friend of his for committing domestic violence he has just learned to expect the same. He stresses the importance of analyzing systems and making sure messages are sent to counter any suggestion that nothing will happen.

This strategy is designed to enact change at all levels of the system through constant monitoring, ongoing feedback from parties involved in the system, and a willingness of system players to be open to criticism and change or affect change in others.

Sumner explains they maximize prosecution of offenders on the A-list by making use of whatever criminal offence charges are pending against the offender.  They get those cases moved to the front of the court calendar and ask the prosecutor not to plea bargain. They inform offenders this preferential treatment is because of the domestic violence. They might reinvestigate an old case that has been dropped or make a new case.  If their records suggest they are involved with drugs they can be the target of an undercover investigation.

“It's the Al Capone treatment.  If we can’t get you for domestic violence, we will charge you for selling drugs.”

High Point avoids putting women at additional risk through two methods, both of which require the victim’s permission. Cocooning is asking the victim “who would know if you were not safe? And can we have permission to contact that person.” This is one layer of protection the victim can add. The second involves a proximity informant: advising the victim to tell someone around them what is happening and ask them to watch for signs she is in trouble. Informants can be a neighbor, co-worker, other family member, etc. The informant can then notify police if something seems out of place.

High Point Community Against Violence

Getting tough on offenders is by no means the whole story of this promising practice. Community members offer support to offenders willing to change their lives. High Point Community Against Violence is a volunteer program that’s been addressing other forms of violence in High Point. Volunteers from Community Against Violence attempt to respond personally and quickly when an offender calls as this has been the most effective way to engage them. Community Against Violence volunteers participate in face to face notifications for offenders on the “B list”. They also offer assistance to offenders including free GED classes to court-ordered people, waiving of fees for Batterer Intervention Programs (BIP) and some job skill training. Every attempt is made to provide a legitimate opportunity to change, but the community also sends a clear message that they will support the imposition of graduated sanctions for subsequent offenses.

 Family Services of Piedmont

This social service program handles the victim contacts and advocacy. They also operate two shelters, sexual assault services, BIP, Child Advocacy Center, and supervised visitation center. (40 advocates/interns). Before the project was launched, they helped conduct the focus groups with victims, including one Latina group, to develop the response to victims.

Strategies

The High Point approach incorporates several strategies that have been shown effective in other jurisdictions:

• Coordination among criminal justice agencies and community DV and neighborhood services
• Improved collection of data on criminal records, Civil Protection Orders, etc., of offenders and effective linkages making this information accessible to interveners;
• Early outreach to victims;
• More comprehensive police reports;
• Dedicated DV police officers and prosecutors; and
• Targeting police and prosecutorial resources toward repeat/chronic offenders.

To these strategies the High Point DV offender-focused deterrence Initiative adds a sophisticated way of dealing with offenders based on the following beliefs:

1) Chronic DV offenders are generally violent offenders with extensive records
2) The criminal justice system should assume responsibility for holding the offender accountable;
3) Criminal justice agencies should communicate directly with offenders about the community’s intent to act decisively to stop DV, and specifically, that increased surveillance of their individual actions is now in effect;
4) Swift, sure and graduated consequences should be imposed upon re-offense and offenders need to see that that is really happening; and
5) Offenders should be offered legitimate assistance in support of their willingness to end violent behavior.

IPV-related Homicides Reduced

While the full formal evaluation has not yet been completed, the measurable impact of this strategy so far includes a dramatic reduction in IPV-related homicides, lower recidivism rates for IPV offenders notified, reduction in IPV arrests, reduction in victim harm reported in IPV assaults, and fewer repeat calls for service. In the five years since the shift to this strategy (2009 – 2013), only 1 of the 16 homicides in High Point was IPV; as compared to 17 of 52 (2004 – 2008) before. In other words prior to 2009, 33% of homicides were IPV compared to 6% since.
A look at the break down between levels shows even the “B” list offenders can be deterred at a high rate. In comparing years 2012 and 2013, IPV arrests are down 17%, IPV arrests with reported victim injuries are down 19%, and IPV-related calls for service are down 10%.