Charlotte–Mecklenburg (N.C.) Police Department Domestic Violence Unit

Program Goals/Target Population

In the early 1990s, the National Institute of Justice sponsored Spousal Assault Replication Program studies in several U.S. cities to explore the effects of policing practices on domestic violence. In the Charlotte, N.C., study, null effects were found for the deterrent effect of arrest on recidivism of domestic violence offenders—that is, arresting the offender did not have any significant effects on recidivism when compared to separating the offender from the victim or issuing a citation. The Charlotte–Mecklenburg Police Department concluded from the study that arrest alone was not enough to deter domestic violence and that further steps were necessary to reduce domestic violence in Charlotte. The department subsequently established a specialized unit to handle domestic violence cases, and the Domestic Violence Unit (DV Unit) was implemented as part of the Special Victims Unit in 1995. The goals of the unit are to reduce recidivism of serious domestic violence offenders and to assist victims of domestic violence through the process of prosecution and recovery.


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.


Services Provided

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.


Key Personnel

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.


Program Theory

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.

Intervention ID

No Data.


Study 1

Recidivism Prevalence

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 Charlotte, N.C., were approximately 50 percent less likely to recidivate than suspects assigned to standard patrol. This was the net effect when taking into account offenders’ demographics, prior history of domestic violence, case severity, arrest, and jail time. When victim injury levels were included in the analysis, the odds ratio indicated that offenders assigned to the DV Unit are still less likely to recidivate compared to the control group offenders. Similar results were found when case features from police narratives were included. All results were found to be statistically significant.


Recidivism Frequency

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.

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