Individuals – Pate & Hamilton (1992)

Study Reference:

Pate, A.M. & Hamilton, E.E. (1992). Formal and Informal Deterrents to Domestic Violence: The Dade County Spouse Assault Experiment. American Sociological Review, 57 (5), 691-697.

See also

Johnson, R. R., & Goodlin‐Fahncke, W. (2015). Exploring the effect of arrest across a domestic batterer typology. Juvenile and Family Court Journal66(1), 15-30.

Location in the Matrix; Methodological Rigor; Outcome:

Individuals; Focused; Reactive; Rigorous; Mixed findings

What police practice or strategy was examined?

This study examines the deterrent effect of arrest on domestic abusers, and the impact of two measures of informal control—employment status and marital status—on that deterrent effect. It tests three hypotheses: (1) the deterrent effect is greater among employed suspects; (2) the deterrent effect is greater among married suspects; (3) the deterrent effect is greatest among suspects with the highest level of commitment (both employed and married).

How was the intervention evaluated?

The study, conducted with the Metro-Dade Police Department, ran from August 1987 to July 1989. Cases involving misdemeanor spousal abuse were randomly assigned by the department’s Computer Assisted Dispatch system to an arrest or no-arrest response. The experimental sample included 907 cases handled by 396 officers. Official data concerning subsequent assaults (within the six month period following the abuse) by the suspect against the same victim were gathered from departmental records.

What were the key findings?

There was no statistically significant difference in the occurrence of a subsequent spouse assault for arrested vs. non-arrested suspects (9.0 and 10.6, respectively). Arrest, however, had a significant deterrent effect among employed suspects, whereas arrest led to a significant increase in subsequent assaults among unemployed suspects. The interaction effect between arrest and marital status was not statistically significant. Results reveal a statistically significant interaction effect between arrest and the composite measure of commitment, indicating that the strong mediating effect of employment status combines with the negligible effect of marital status to produce a moderate effect.  In other words, suspects who have a job and are married are the most likely to be deterred by an arrest.

What were the implications for law enforcement?

The authors caution that these findings raise concerns about the appropriateness and efficacy of universally mandated or preferred arrest for misdemeanor spouse abuse; if arrest deters only those who have something to lose (e.g., a job), that fact must be taken into account when policies are established.

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