Program Goals/Target Population
In the early 1990s, the National Institute of Justice sponsored Spousal Assault Replication Program studies in several
As such, the DV Unit is designed to assist with particularly chronic or violent cases of domestic violence. All domestic violence cases in the county are forwarded to the police sergeant, who decides if the case should be assigned to standard patrol or the DV Unit. Reports of cases are reviewed, and decisions are made based on the offender’s history and the severity of the case. Most of the cases involve intimate partner violence, as opposed to family violence.
The two main components of the DV Unit are 1) intensive investigation and 2) victim assistance. In the investigation component, domestic violence cases are assessed and, based on their seriousness, are determined if they are eligible for processing in the DV Unit. For those cases chosen for processing by the unit, the police department conducts follow-up interviews with witnesses, identifies and corrects missing information from reports, and prepares case materials for the district attorney. A lead detective is assigned to each case to conduct a thorough investigation, and the suspect is charged based on the evidence collected during the investigation. Aggressive measures are taken to ensure that the offender is prosecuted to the full extent of the law. This specialized and focused attention is one of the main factors that differentiates the DV Unit from standard police processing.
The victim assistance component provides services to help victims of domestic violence through the criminal justice process. This component depends on the cooperation between police and community organizations, as well as several government and nonprofit organizations, to provide services and resources for victims. These include providing crisis intervention, shelter, and food and gas cards to victims of domestic violence. In certain severe cases, the DV Unit provides specialized assistance to victims. This may consist of counseling, making referrals to social service agencies, helping develop safety plans, and guiding victims through specific criminal justice procedures, such as obtaining restraining orders.
The DV Unit is comprised of one sergeant, one administrative assistant, five detectives, and four counselors. They are assisted by approximately 70 citizen volunteers, who help victims with obtaining resources and filling out paperwork, remind victims of upcoming court dates, and perform other various services. The unit also relies on the participation of government and community organizations for support and administration of services. Community organizations are also relied on to help coordinate specialized responses to domestic violence cases, identify risk factors for family violence, identify hot spots of domestic violence, and develop proactive strategies to combat domestic violence.
The DV Unit is based on the theory of individual deterrence, in which greater certainty, swiftness, and/or severity of formal punishment is believed to deter the offender’s future criminal activity. Specifically, the specialized attention provided to severe domestic violence cases through the DV Unit is thought to have a deterrent effect among domestic violence offenders. The incapacitation aspect of crime control also has a role, as removing serious violent offenders from the streets can help reduce domestic violence in the community.
The theory behind the victim assistance component of the Domestic Violence Unit is to provide empowerment for victims. This is based on the idea that if victims are given emotional support and guidance, they will be better able to recover from their traumatic experience and feel better about themselves. In theory, they will subsequently become better able to protect themselves, and in turn will be less likely to return to their abusive partner or become involved with another abusive partner. This component also draws upon the routine activities theory of crime, which proposes that crime depends on the opportunities available. Theoretically, if victims become empowered and are better able to protect themselves, they will become less suitable targets for abusers.
Exum and colleagues (2010) found that across the 18- to 30-month follow-up, suspects assigned to the Charlotte–Mecklenburg Police Department’s Domestic Violence Unit (DV Unit) in
It was found that assignment to the DV Unit had a significant negative effect on the frequency of future offending. Offenders assigned to the unit had significantly lower recidivism frequency rates in comparison to offenders assigned to standard patrol. This finding remained the same when indicators of severity (severity of the triggering offense and of victim injury level) were taken into account in the analysis.
In addition, it was found that the length of the follow-up period, and the offender’s gender, race, and prior offending history significantly predicted levels of recidivism among offenders. Most of the National Incident-Based Reporting System (or NIBRS) charges that predicted prevalence also predicted frequency, as did the measures of arrest and jail time. The reduction in frequency can be largely attributed to the overall reduction in prevalence of offending among suspects assigned to the DV Unit.