Can policies prevent domestic violence?

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When I recently wrote about preventing domestic violence and sexual violence as a public health issue, I recognized that violence prevention is different from other traditional public health issues.  To reduce injuries to child in car accidents, policies can require the use of car seats.  But, what is the equivalent policy to prevent domestic violence?  There are some ideas that are not well thought out. Lighting up parking lots may be a good idea; making this a policy to prevent rape is misguided since it does not address the primary factors related to sexual assault.

I was pleased to see in the journal Injury Prevention the study Effects of domestic violence policies, alcohol taxes and police staffing levels on intimate partner homicide in large US cities asking this important question. While the study does not provide definitive answers, I applaud the effort to investigate the role of policy.

The full citation and abstract follow the jump.

Effects of domestic violence policies, alcohol taxes and police staffing levels on intimate partner homicide in large US cities.

Zeoli AM, Webster DW. Injury Prevention 2010; 16(2): 90-5.

Click here for the abstract on the journal’s web site.

(Copyright © 2010, BMJ Publishing Group)

OBJECTIVE: To assess the relationships between intimate partner homicide (IPH) and public policies including police staffing levels in large US cities.

DESIGN: The research uses a multiple time-series design to examine the effects of statutes aimed at restricting access to firearms for perpetrators of domestic violence, allowing or mandating arrest for violators of domestic violence restraining orders (DVROs), beer excise taxes, and police staffing levels on IPH in 46 of the largest US cities from 1979 to 2003. Both total IPH and IPH committed with a firearm are analysed. Generalised estimating equations using a Poisson distribution are used to regress IPH on the policies and potential confounders.

RESULTS: State statutes restricting those under DVROs from accessing firearms, and laws allowing the warrantless arrest of DVRO violators are associated with reductions in total and firearm IPH. Police staffing levels are also negatively associated with IPH and firearm IPH. There was no evidence that other policies to restrict firearm access to domestic violence offenders or alcohol taxes had a significant impact on IPH.

CONCLUSIONS: Reducing access to firearms for DVRO defendants, increasing police staffing levels and allowing the warrantless arrest of DVRO violators may reduce the city-level risk of IPH. Future research should evaluate factors that may mediate the effect of these laws and increased police staffing levels on IPH to determine whether there are opportunities to increase their protective effect. Further research is needed on firearm law implementation to determine why the other tested laws were not found effective.

David Lee

David S. Lee, MPH, is the Director of Prevention Services at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) where he provides training and technical assistance on prevention. David manages the national project Prevention Connection, an online community of violence against women prevention practitioners, funders, researchers and activists. For over 29 years David has worked in efforts to end domestic violence and sexual assault.

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  • Quercki May 17, 2010, 11:31 AM

    It looks like this new policy might help:
    “Police Chief Anthony Batts is . . . expanding the list of crimes that dispatchers and police must treat with the highest urgency – a Code 3, which directs officers to exceed the speed limit by up to 20 mph and drive through red lights after stopping to check for traffic.

    The change, which took effect March 21, elevates such calls as a person screaming, domestic violence and fights to the top of the list along with shootings, homicides and robberies in progress.
    . . . .
    On the first day of the new rule, it was used seven times to send officers out on Code 3s – and officers caught five suspects at the scenes, including a man dragging a woman down the street, dispatchers and police said.”

    Read more: