Individuals – Sherman et al. (1992)

Study Reference:

Sherman, L. W., Schmidt, J. D., Rogan, D. P., Gartin, P. R., Cohn, E. G, Collins, D. J., & Bacich, A. R. (1992). The variable effects of arrest on criminal careers: The Milwaukee Domestic Violence Experiment. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 83(1), 137-169.

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 effects

What police practice or strategy was examined?

An experiment in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that tested the deterrent effects of various police responses to domestic violence found that the effectiveness of arresting the alleged abuser varied according to his characteristics and in many cases correlated with an escalation of domestic violence. From April 7, 1987, to August 8, 1988, the Milwaukee Police Department conducted another controlled experiment in the use of arrest for misdemeanor domestic battery.

How was the intervention evaluated?

Police responses to domestic assault were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: standard arrest, arrest followed by release on personal recognizance as soon as possible after arrival at central booking, and no arrest but a warning of arrest if the police had to return within 24 hours. A total of 1,200 cases were included in the sample. Outcomes for the three police responses were measured by known repeat offenses within 6 months of the initial police action. Four outcome measures were used to estimate repeat violence by the sample suspects: “hotline” reports called in by all police citywide to the battered women’s shelter, arrests of the suspects for repeat violence, offense reports of repeat violence by the same suspect against the same victim, and face-to-face interviews conducted with the victims.

What were the key findings?

The study found no evidence of an overall long-term deterrent effect with the use of standard arrest. Arrest produced an initial deterrent effect that quickly disappeared after 30 days. By 1 year later, short arrest alone and short and full arrest combined produced an escalation effect. The first reported act of repeat violence following any arrest response occurred an average of 20 percent sooner than it did following the warning treatment. Arrest was also found to have different effects on different kinds of people; employed, married, and white high school graduates were more likely to be deterred by arrest than were unemployed, unmarried, black high school dropouts. Violence among the latter group tended to escalate with arrest.

What were the implications for law enforcement?

The results show that arrest tends to increase recidivism among domestic violence offenders overall but has different effects on different kinds of people. The authors suggest a need for other approaches to the control of domestic violence among marginalized groups (e.g., the unemployed), such as greater investment in battered women’s shelters.

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