Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment

Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment

The Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment (MDVE) was a study done in 1981-1982, led by Lawrence W. Sherman, to evaluate the effectiveness of various police responses to domestic violence calls in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The study was performed with cooperation from the Police Foundation and the Minneapolis Police Department, and funding by the National Institute of Justice.[1] The results of the study had a "virtually unprecedented impact in changing then-current police practices."[2] Subsequently, numerous states and law enforcement agencies enacted policies for mandatory arrest, without warrant, for domestic violence cases in which the responding police officer had probable cause that a crime had occurred.



Domestic violence historically has been viewed as a private family matter that need not involve government or criminal justice intervention.[3] Before the early 1970s, police in the United States favored a "hands-off" approach to domestic violence calls, with arrest only used as a last resort.[4][5] At the time, domestic violence cases were classified as misdemeanor assault cases.[6] A 1978 court order in New York City mandated that arrests only be made in cases of serious violence, thus officers instead made effort to mediate family disputes.[7]

In the early 1970s, clinical psychologists argued that police should make an effort to mediate disputes.[1]

Statistics on incidence of domestic violence, published in the late 1970s, helped raise public awareness of the problem and increase activism.[3][8] A study published in 1976 by the Police Foundation found that the police had intervened at least once in the previous two years in 85 percent of spouse homicides.[9] In the late 1970s and early 1980s, feminists and battered women's advocacy groups were calling on police to take domestic violence more seriously and change intervention strategies.[10] In some instances, these groups took legal action against police departments, including in Oakland, California and New York City, to get them to make arrests in domestic violence cases.[1] They claimed that police assigned low priority to domestic disturbance calls.[11]

In 1978, Alfred Blumstein and the National Academy of Sciences issued a report, Deterrence and Incapacitation: Estimating the Effects of Criminal Sanctions on Crime Rates, which argued for an approach to domestic violence and other crime, based on social control theories and use of deterrence for crime control.[2]

The study


The Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment looked at effectiveness of methods used by police to reduce domestic violence, using 25 randomized field experiments.[12] Cases used in the study were misdemeanor assault calls, which make up the bulk of domestic violence calls for service. Both the victim and offender needed to still be present when the police arrived, in order to be included in the study.[10]

51 patrol officers in the Minneapolis Police Department participated in the study. Each was asked to use one of three approaches for handling domestic violence calls, in cases where officers had probable cause to believe an assault had occurred:[2]

  1. Send the abuser away for eight hours.
  2. Advice and mediation of disputes.
  3. Make an arrest.

Interviews were conducted during a 6-month follow-up period, with both victims and offenders, as well as official records consulted to determine whether or not re-offending had occurred.[10]

The study lasted approximately 17 months, and included 330 cases.[2]


Arrest was found to be the most effective police response. The study found that arrest reduced the rate by half of re-offending against the same victim within the following six months.[13] Other methods, such as counseling or temporarily sending assailants away, were deemed less effective.[1]

Policy response

The results of the study received a great deal of attention from the news media, including The New York Times and prime-time news coverage on television.[2] Many U.S. police departments responded to the study, adopting a mandatory arrest policy for spousal violence cases with probable cause.[14] New York City Police Department Commissioner Benjamin Ward quickly issued a new mandate for officers to make arrests, after reading the results of the study in a Police Foundation report.[7] Ward stated his belief that "arresting violent members of a household would be more effective in protecting other family members and help safeguard police officers called in to stop the highly charged quarrels. I thought it was about time to put policemen out of the counseling business and into what they really are best at, which is making arrests, then let the judge decide."[7] With this mandate, Ward also included cohabitants and same-sex couples in the police definition of family.[7] The Houston and Dallas Police Departments were also quick to change their approach to domestic disturbance calls, and make more arrests.[15] Within a year, the number of police departments using arrest as a strategy in domestic violence cases jumped from 10 to 31%, and to 46% by 1986.[2] Numerous other police departments had partially changed their approach to domestic violence cases.[2]

In 1984, the U.S. Attorney General's Task Force on Family Violence report drew heavily upon the Minneapolis study, in recommending that domestic violence be handled with a criminal justice approach.[10] Within eight years, 15 states and the District of Columbia enacted new domestic violence laws that proscribed mandatory or presumptive arrest of violent domestic offenders.[16] By 2005, 23 states and the District of Columbia had enacted mandatory arrest for domestic assault, without warrant, given that the officer has probable cause and regardless of whether or not the officer witnessed the crime.[17] The Minneapolis study also influenced policy in other countries, including New Zealand, which adopted a pro-arrest policy for domestic violence cases.[18]

Mandatory arrest policies

Mandatory arrest laws were implemented in the U.S. during the 1980s and 1990s due to the impact of the Minneapolis Experiment. Also, the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 added to the fight for legislation in the 1990s in the states without mandatory arrest laws.[19] The laws “require the police to make arrests in domestic violence cases when there was probable cause to do so, regardless of the wishes of the victim.” [20] Before the laws were put into effect, police officers were required to witness the abuse occurring first hand prior to making an arrest. Currently, 23 States use Mandatory Arrest policies. [21] Other States leave the decision to arrest to the discretion of the responding officers.

History of mandatory arrest policy in the U.S.

Prior to the implementation of mandatory arrest policies in the United States, police often were not able to arrest individuals suspected of domestic violence. In an article from the California Law Review titled “Domestic Violence as a Crime Against the State,” Michaela Hoctor explained that “when officers did respond to a domestic violence call, they usually attempted to mediate the dispute. This "mediation" consisted of a variety of approaches, including attempts by officers to convince the parties to reconcile immediately at the scene or to use formal alternative dispute resolution programs.” [22] The debate over Mandatory Arrest is still underway, as many people believe it has negative effects on the assailant, victim, and their family members including but not limited to the breakdown of the family, the economic deprivation of the victim, the trauma associated with separation of families, and the lack of childcare in situations of dual arrest. Sometimes when police respond, they arrest both parties involved in a domestic violence situation. As described by Margaret Martin in the Journal of Family Violence, “The practice of dual arrest, the arrest of two parties, usually a man and a woman engaged in a ‘domestic dispute,’ has arisen in localities which employ presumptive and mandatory arrest”.[23] Police are more likely to arrest both parties if the primary aggressor is female [24] However, not every domestic violence situation results in dual arrest. Police Officers are trained to deduct who the primary aggressor is in a domestic violence dispute, leading to the arrest of the assailant and not the victim.

Circumstances for Arrest

Some states will arrest simply based on probable cause to believe an act of domestic violence has been committed, while others do not allow for an arrest after a specific amount of time following the incident. For example, in Alaska the police cannot make an arrest if the abuse occurred more than 12 hours prior to notification [21] Police are specifically trained to assess the situation and decide whether they have the required probable cause to make an arrest. For instance, Wisconsin has a list of requirements that must be met before an officer can arrest a suspect. These include the age of the suspect(s), their relationship to the victim(s), and whether the act could be considered an intentional assault. The officer must also be able to identify the “predominant aggressor” [25]

Arrest Rates

According to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), in 2008, “when victims and offenders were intimate partners, police made no arrests in 50.1 percent of incidents, one or more arrests in 48.0 percent of incidents, and dual arrests in 1.9 percent of incidents” [26] In regards to same-sex relationships, the arrest rates for domestic violence were the same as those for heterosexual couples. For all intimate partner relationships, offenders were more likely to be arrested if the incident of violence was a serious aggravated assault. The NIJ also reported that “arrest occurred more frequently in cases involving intimate partners if the offender was white” and “cases involving intimate partners and acquaintances were more likely to result in arrest if the offender was 21 or older” [24]


The study was subject of much criticism, with concerns about its methodology, as well as its conclusions.[2] The follow-up period of six months was short, and not able to capture the episodic and cyclical patterns that may occur with domestic violence.[27] Also, Minneapolis may have been unusual, in that they kept arrestees overnight in jail, whereas in other jurisdictions arrestees might be sent home much quicker.[1]

Randomized experiments look at causal effects for the group as a whole. Conclusions may be made that may apply to most individuals in the group, but not all individuals, with some possibly experiencing negative effects of the intervention.[28] In some cases, arrest may provoke the abuser and increase the possibility of more retributive violence.[29]

Mandatory arrest is based on deterrence theory, which includes the assumption that the offender is making rational decisions. In the case of domestic violence, the offender often shows little rational behavior.[30]


Through the Spouse Assault Replication Program (SARP), the Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment was replicated in several other cities, beginning in 1986.[16] The cities included Omaha, Nebraska, Charlotte, North Carolina, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Miami-Dade County, Florida, and Colorado Springs, Colorado.[31] In Metro-Dade, 907 cases were used, compared to 1,200 cases in Milwaukee and over 1,600 cases in Colorado Springs.[16]

Some of these studies have produced different results than the Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment. The Colorado Springs study found several police responses that were slightly more effective, including restoring order, providing crisis intervention, issuing emergency protection orders, or arresting offenders, and that there is no singular approach for police dealing with domestic violence cases.[32] Altogether, the five replication studies produced mixed results, with three studies finding that offenders who were arrested experienced higher levels of recidivism.[13] The other studies showed a modest but statistically significant reduction in re-offending for those arrested.[13]

In the replication studies, arrest seemed to help in the short run in some cases, but those arrested experienced double the rate of violence over the course of one year.[16] Criminologists do not fully understand the reasons why deterrent effects do not last over time. But they suggest that abusers may initially fear punishment, though many cases do not make it all the way through the criminal justice process. If the victim is uncooperative during investigation, the prosecutor may choose not to pursue the case.[33] If the case is pursued through the criminal justice system, sometimes the resulting sentence is minor. Subsequently, fear that the abuser has of punishment may have diminished.[34]

In 1993, Janell Schmidt and Lawrence W. Sherman recommended that police be given more structured discretion, with a menu of options the officer could choose from in each situation.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d e Sherman, Lawrence W. and Richard A. Berk (April 1984). The Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment. Police Foundation. http://www.policefoundation.org/pdf/minneapolisdve.pdf. Retrieved 2007-06-12. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Buzawa, E. S., and C. G. Buzawa (1990). Domestic Violence: The Criminal Justice Response. Sage. pp. 94–99. ISBN 0761924485. 
  3. ^ a b Fagan, Jeffrey (1995). "Criminalization of Domestic Violence: Promises and Limits". Research Report. Conference on Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation. National Institute of Justice. http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/crimdom.pdf. 
  4. ^ International Association of Chiefs of Police (1967). Training Key 16: Handling Disturbance Calls. International Association of Chiefs of Police. 
  5. ^ Parnas, Raymond I. (1967). "The Police Response to the Domestic Disturbance". Wisconsin Law Review 31: pp. 914–960. 
  6. ^ Buzawa, Eve S. and Carl G. Buzawa (2005). "Traditional and Innovative Police Responses to Domestic Violence". In Dunham, Roger G., Geoffrey P. Albert. Critical Issues in Policing (5th ed.). Waveland Press. ISBN 1577663527. 
  7. ^ a b c d LeMoyne, James (April 15, 1984). "A Firmer Response to Family Strife". The New York Times. 
  8. ^ Straus, M., Gelles, R., & Steinmetz, S. (1980). Behind Closed Doors: Violence in the American Family. Anchor/Doubleday. 
  9. ^ Police Foundation (1976). Domestic Violence and the Police: Studies in Detroit and Kansas City. The Police Foundation. 
  10. ^ a b c d Gelles, Richard J. (May–June 1993). "Constraints against family violence: how well do they work?". American Behavioral Scientist 36 (5): pp. 575–587. doi:10.1177/0002764293036005003. 
  11. ^ Straus (1980), and references below, "Criticism of police response"
  12. ^ "AEC Presidents: Lawrence W. Sherman". Academy of Experimental Criminologists. http://www.crim.upenn.edu/aec/lsherman.htm. Retrieved 2007-06-12. 
  13. ^ a b c Maxwell, Christopher D., Garner, Joel H., Fagan, Jefferey A. (Jul 2001) (PDF). The effects of arrest on intimate partner violence: New evidence from the spouse assault replication program (Research in Brief). National Institute of Justice. NCJ 188199. http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/188199.pdf. 
  14. ^ Elliott, Delbert S. (1989). "Criminal Justice Procedures in Family Violence Crimes". In Oblin, Lloyd and Michael Tonry. Family Violence. Crime and Justice: A Review of Research. University of Chicago. pp. 427–480. 
  15. ^ "Arrest May Be Deterrent In Domestic Violence, Study Shows". Associated Press / New York Times. May 30, 1984. 
  16. ^ a b c d e Schmidt, Janell D. and Lawrence W. Sherman (1993). "Does Arrest Deter Domestic Violence?". American Behavioral Scientist 36 (5): pp. 601–609. doi:10.1177/0002764293036005005. 
  17. ^ Hoctor, M. (1997). "Domestic Violence as a Crime against the State". California Law Review (California Law Review, Vol. 85, No. 3) 85 (3): 643–700. doi:10.2307/3481154. JSTOR 3481154. 
  18. ^ Carswell, Sue (December 2006). "Historical development of the pro-arrest policy in". Family violence and the pro-arrest policy: a literature review. New Zealand Ministry of Justice. http://www.justice.govt.nz/pubs/reports/2006/family-violence-pro-arrest-policy-literature-review/chapter-2.html. 
  19. ^ Violence Against Women Act of 1994, [1], “The Library of Congress”, 1994
  20. ^ Clute, Penelope D., “Know the Law: Domestic Violence Mandatory Arrest”
  21. ^ a b National Institute of Justice, “Table 1: States With Mandatory Arrest”
  22. ^ Hoctor, Michaela, “Domestic Violence as a Crime Against the State”, “California Law Review”, May 1997
  23. ^ Martin, Margaret, “Double Your Trouble: Dual Arrest in Family Violence”, “Journal of Family Violence”, 1997, Volume 12, Number 2, 139-157,
  24. ^ a b National Institute of Justice, “Domestic Violence Cases: What Research Shows about Arrest and Dual Arrest Rates”, “Office of Justice Programs”
  25. ^ Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “Mandatory Arrest Checklist”, Published 1989, Updated 2008, Sec. 968.075, Wis. Stats
  26. ^ National Institute of Justice, 1: Arrests by Victim-Offender Relationship: Intimate Partners”, “Office of Justice Programs”
  27. ^ Fagan, Jeffrey (1989). "Cessation of Family Violence: Deterrence and Dissuasion". Crime and Justice: an Annual Review of Research 11: pp. 377–425. doi:10.1086/449158. 
  28. ^ Berk, Richard A. (1993). "What the Scientific Evidence Shows: On the Average, We Can Do No Better Than Arrest". In Gelles, Richard J., Donileen R. Loseke. Current Controversies on Family Violence. Sage Publications. p. 328. ISBN 0803946740. 
  29. ^ Davis, Richard L. (1998). Domestic Violence: Facts and Fallacies. Praeger. p. 28. 
  30. ^ Fagan, Jeffrey (1996). The Criminalization of Domestic Violence: Promises and Limits. National Institute of Justice. 
  31. ^ Weisz, Arlene (November 2001). "Spousal Assault Replication Program: Studies of Effects of Arrest on Domestic Violence". National Electronic Network on Violence Against Women. http://www.vawnet.org/DomesticViolence/Research/VAWnetDocs/AR_arrest.pdf. 
  32. ^ Kramer, Lorne C. and Howard Black (June 1998). "DVERTing Domestic Violence" (PDF). FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. http://www.fbi.gov/publications/leb/1998/juneleb.pdf. 
  33. ^ Dawson, Myrna and Ronit Dinovitzer (2001). "Victim Cooperation and the Prosecution of Domestic Violence in a Specialized Court". Justice Quarterly 18 (3): pp. 593–622. doi:10.1080/07418820100095031. 
  34. ^ Siegel, Larry J. (2003). Criminology, 8th edition. Thomson-Wadsworth. pp. 126–127. 

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