Individuals – Hirschel et al. (1990)

Study Reference:

Hirschel, D., Hutchison, I. W., Dean, C. W., Kelley, J. J., & Pesackis, C. E. (1990). Charlotte spouse assault replication project: Final report. Charlotte, NC: University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Location in the Matrix; Methodological Rigor; Outcome:

Individuals; Focused; Reactive; Very rigorous; No evidence of an effect

What police practice or strategy was examined?

Three police responses to spouse abuse were compared: advising (and possibly separating the couple), issuing a citation to the offender (an order requiring the offender to appear in court to answer specific charges), and arresting the offender. Two features were common to all three treatments. First, the responding officers were to attempt to calm matters down and restore some semblance of order. Second, each victim was to be given a victim information card which provided basic details about the availability of local resources that could be of assistance. Other features differentiated the three treatments. The advise/separate treatment required that the officers attempt to help the couple solve their immediate problem, possibly referring them to an appropriate social service agency or asking one of them to leave the residence for a period of time. The arrest treatment required that the suspect be arrested, handcuffed, and transported to the local jail for an appearance before a magistrate. The citation treatment required that the officers issue the offender a standard citation, and explain the required court appearance to both the victim and the offender.

How was the intervention evaluated?

This was a randomized experiment – cases that met eligibility criteria (being classified as a misdemeanor offense, and both the victim and suspect had to be present upon officer arrival) were randomly assigned to one of the three responses, and the cases were followed for at least six months to determine whether any recidivism occurred. Recidivism measures were obtained through official police records as well as victim interviews. The actual field experiment lasted approximately 2 months, receiving 686 eligible cases. Data sources included police records and victim interviews shortly after the presenting incident and again 6 months after the incident.

What were the key findings?

For arrest recidivism, there was a prevalence rate of 18.2 for the arrest treatment, 11.8 for advise/separate, and 19.2 for the citation treatment. There were no statistically significant differences among the three treatments. Analysis of the victim interview data produced no statistically significant differences between the three treatments examined in either the initial or the 6-month interviews Based on prevalence, arrest is no better at deterring reoffending than the other two treatments.

What were the implications for law enforcement?

While arrest may not reduce recidivism, it should be taken under advisement that failure to arrest may communicate to abusers, victims, and the public that assault between family members is not as serious as assault involving unrelated persons.

Where can I find more information about this intervention, similar types of intervention, or related studies?