Twenty years ago, domestic violence was considered a family affair. Police usually would separate a couple, make them promise to knock it off, and go on their way. Then Arizona and other states passed laws saying police must arrest domestic-violence offenders if there is physical injury or a weapon is involved, says the Arizona Republic. Now, officers once reluctant to intervene say domestic violence is such a pervasive crime they need to be involved in stopping it. Not only does the cycle of violence invade every aspect of a victim’s life, they say, but it also shapes the children who witness it, perpetuating more violence and anti-social behaviors down the road. A new study by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University surveyed 777 officers around the state and included 31 personal interviews. The officers’ names and agencies were kept confidential.
The study raises questions about officer training and education, prosecution, and the state’s ability to provide services and programs for victims to break the cycle of violence. Officers question whether the state’s pro-arrest policy is working amid a lack of prosecution, and they often don’t understand why victims go back to their abusers. Nearly all officers surveyed now believe domestic violence is a “real crime” that warrants their intervention, particularly because of its links to child abuse, animal abuse, substance abuse, and other crimes within and outside the family. Nearly 72 percent agreed they should arrest offenders even when the victim says no. Only 14.4 percent of officers felt prosecutors followed up effectively with domestic-violence cases. Many officers sympathize with victims but don’t understand why they return to abusers. Dale Wiebusch of the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence said mandatory arrest works best when there is a coordinated response to the abuse that includes help for the victim and prosecution for the batterer. “Nobody wants to pay for that,” Wiebusch said.