Cambridge: Police Shouldn't Arrest Abusive Partners

3 March 2014, 06:47

Police should stop arresting abusive partners because such intervention may increase the chances of domestic violence victims dying early, a leading criminologist has claimed.

A new study has found that victims whose partners were arrested were more likely to die early compared with those whose partners were simply warned by officers.

Results were particularly significant among African-American victims, according to the University of Cambridge.

Most of the deaths studied were not murders, accidents or suicides but the result of common causes such as heart disease, cancer and other illnesses - possibly brought about by the stress surrounding their partner's arrest.

Criminologist Professor Lawrence Sherman, one of the study's authors, said that such health implications could be amplified by the experience and called for a "robust review'' of domestic violence mandatory arrest policies operated in both the UK and the United States.

He added: "It remains to be seen whether democracies can accept these facts as they are, rather than as we might wish them to be.

"The fact that there has never been a fair test of the benefits and harms of so-called 'positive action' policy in the UK means that British police can only be guided by US evidence.

"That evidence clearly indicates more death than life results in at least one large sample.

"If the current policy is to be continued in the UK, the moral burden of proof now lies with those who wish to continue this mass arrest policy.''

The research is based on a major US crime study conducted 23 years ago which found that victims whose partners were arrested on common assault charges - mostly without causing injury - were 64% more likely to have died early than those whose partners were not removed by police.

Among African-American victims, arrest increased early mortality by 98% - as opposed to white victims, whose mortality was increased from arrest by just 9%.

The research also found that employed victims suffered the worst effects of their partners' arrests.

Employed black victims with arrested partners suffered a death rate more than four times higher than those whose partner received a warning, which is given at the scene and does not create a criminal record. No such link was found in white victims in the Milwaukee Domestic Violence Experiment.

The findings will be announced in the US today and presented in the UK this Wednesday at the winter meeting of the Society of Evidence-Based Policing.

Previous studies have shown post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) to be prevalent in victims of domestic violence, and that low but chronic PTSS has been linked to premature death from coronary heart disease and other health problems.

Prof Sherman said: "The evidence shows that black women are dying at a much higher rate than white women from a policy that was intended to protect all victims of domestic violence, regardless of race.

"It is now clear that a pro-arrest policy has failed to protect all victims, and that a robust review of these policies is urgently needed.

"Because all the victims had an equal chance of having their partners arrested by random assignment, there is no other likely explanation for this difference except that it was caused by seeing their partners arrested.

"These differences are too large to be due to chance. They are also too large to be ignored.''

More than 100,000 arrests are made each year in England and Wales for domestic abuse, with most cases not proceeding to prosecution, he added.