March 25, 2016

How one town cut domestic violence

Governing - High Point, N.C., a city of more than 107,000 people in Guilford County, for years, had the highest rate of domestic violence in the state. Roughly a fifth of the police department’s calls for service -- some 5,000 a year -- involve domestic disturbances....

In 2011, the [High Point police] department decided to reinvigorate its approach. Through an array of positive incentives, community engagement and warnings of jail time, it sought to deter first-time abusers from assaulting their partners again and to dissuade chronic offenders from continuing or escalating their pattern of assaults.

At the core of High Point’s approach is an intervention known as focused deterrence, a crime reduction strategy developed in Boston in the early 1990s as a way to stop gun violence among gangs. Under the strategy, officers would target a specific criminal behavior committed by a small number of chronic offenders, such as gang members; offer them various forms of assistance, such as help earning their GED; and threaten them with sanctions and punishment if the behavior did not stop. In the late 1990s, High Point became one of the first jurisdictions to replicate Boston’s approach. As a result, the city’s violent crime rate fell by nearly half in a year’s time. In 2002, High Point tried focused deterrence on open-air drug markets with notable successes. Then the city decided to use the approach to try to curtail domestic violence.

High Point had been experiencing three to five intimate partner homicides a year. Since the intervention began five years ago, it has had only two (one involved someone new to the city and the other a couple passing through town). Its re-arrest rates for domestic violence have fallen to the low- to mid-teens, far below the 20 to 34 percent experienced by other police departments.

Susan Herman, the New York Police Department’s deputy commissioner for collaborative policing and the former director of the National Center for Victims of Violent Crime, describes the High Point model as the most promising idea to reduce domestic violence she has seen in more than a decade. “This new strategy, backed by research and carefully implemented in partnership with victim advocates, is showing impressive results,” she says.

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