Abstract: Fostering Police Department Support for Domestic Violence Response Team Implementation (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Fostering Police Department Support for Domestic Violence Response Team Implementation

Friday, January 17, 2020
Liberty Ballroom N, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Laura Johnson, PhD, Assistant Research Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Abigail DeSilva, BA, Research Assistant, Rutgers University, NJ
Sarah McMahon, PhD, Associate Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Background and Purpose: Coordinated community response (CCR) is a method of multi-agency response to domestic violence (DV) incidences and are based on the belief that properly addressing DV requires a response that takes into account the complex dynamics that underlie DV situations. In New Jersey, there is a statute that requires law enforcement agencies and DV organizations to collaborate on the implementation of DV response teams (DVRT) that provide information to victims on the law, safety options, and available resources. To do this, advocates and social workers from DV organizations respond to police departments to meet with victims following reports of abuse. The purpose of this study was to examine the factors that contribute to police departmental support for DVRT implementation in collaboration with DV organizations.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 24 key stakeholders (15 DVRT coordinators, 9 law enforcement officers) involved with the implementation of DVRTs within the state. Interviews were audio recorded; in instances where participants did not consent to be audio recorded (n = 3), comprehensive notes were taken. Audio recordings were professionally transcribed and reviewed for accuracy. A content analysis of the data was conducted using ATLAS.ti. First, two members of the research team coded a subsample of interviews using open coding to develop an exhaustive list of codes that reflected topics addressed in the interview guide, as well as other concepts that emerged. A coding guide was then developed to assist the research team in coding the remaining transcripts. The research team then met to discuss underlying themes and sub-themes.

Results: Four key themes emerged around law enforcement motivations for DVRT implementation: (1) benefits to law enforcement officers, (2) benefits to victims, (3) mandating of intervention, and (4) recognition of DV as a potentially lethal crime. One of the perceived benefits of the intervention is that, on a practical level, it keeps victims occupied while they wait for officers to complete their reports. It also has the potential to strengthen victim statements, as the victim advocates implementing the intervention can assist calming victims, focusing thoughts, and eliciting greater details about the case. Further, the intervention benefits victims, as advocates provide resources/referrals, and help to clarify the criminal justice process. Implementation of the DVRT program was more effective when mandated by a community leader. Finally, recognizing DV as a potentially lethal crime, often as a result of a homicide in the community, was identified by both coordinators and officers as a motivation for utilizing and implementing the DVRT program.

Conclusion and Implications: Findings illuminate the potential strengths and challenges of law enforcement officers collaborating with DV advocates and social workers to implement a crisis intervention and provide potential ideas for building police support. Perhaps most important, Police Chiefs should communicate the importance of DV interventions to law enforcement officers by developing policies and practices that prioritize DV. Further, implementation mandates from criminal justice leaders, such as Prosecutors or the State Attorney General, may be effective for building law enforcement buy-in.