A report released by the SAFE City Program in the Anchorage Department of Health and Human Services examining police response to domestic violence calls reveals that the Anchorage Police Department (APD) has successfully implemented policy which treats such cases as criminal offenses and reflects consistent concern for victim safety. APD policy for domestic violence cases requires that arrests be made in all incidents where there is probable cause to assume that a violation of Alaska's domestic violence laws has occurred. Since the late 1980s Alaska state laws have permitted arrest on probable cause in domestic violence incidents, and a related state law enacted during the same period requires law enforcement officers to distribute information on community services and legal options to victims of domestic violence.
Research conducted in other locations has claimed that arrests are rarely made in domestic violence cases and that police generally exhibit a lack of responsiveness to domestic incidents.
The study summarized in this article examined the implementation of Anchorage Police Department policy on domestic violence in three areas: 1) arrest action; 2) evidence collection through the use of report forms; and 3) officer action in ensuring victim safety and distribution of victim resource information. The department worked with the municipal SAFE City Program to make the data available for this analysis. Of the 8084 reported cases of domestic violence between 1989 and 1992, a random sample of twenty per cent — 1609 reports — were analyzed. The assumption of the researcher was that police reports detailing specific actions will reveal the extent of policy implementation.
Arrest Action Policy
Of the 1609 reports, only cases (n=897) where an officer was dispatched and a subject identified were evaluated on arrest action. Arrest action was defined as making an arrest, forwarding the case for investigation, issuing a summons, or taking other legal action to detain the suspect. As shown in Table 1, an arrest or arrest-like action occurred in 79 per cent of all domestic violence incidents where the suspect was identified and present at the site. Such a high percentage offers strong indication that Anchorage police officers are following departmental policy on domestic violence calls.
For a subset of these cases — those which involved a male suspect, a female victim and a spousal-like relationship — five independent variables were analyzed in conjunction with arrest action: injury, intoxication, ethnicity, relationship of couple, and victim cooperation.
Injury. This study shows a strong relationship between victim injury and police arrest action. Over the four-year study period, not only was injury increasingly noted by the police officer, but an arrest became more likely when injury was noted. Even when injury was claimed by the victim but not noted by the police officer, arrests increased over the four-year period.
Intoxication. This study indicates that an arrest was more likely to occur if the victim was not intoxicated, while the intoxication of the suspect had no effect on the likelihood of arrest. (Table 2). When a victim is intoxicated, an inability to communicate may inhibit the collection of critical information in making a probable cause arrest.
Ethnicity of Suspect. No statistically significant differences in arrest action were found for the three principle ethnic groups — white, black and Alaska Native.
Victim Cooperation. The data reveal that in Anchorage arrest action in domestic violence incidents seems to be influenced by the presence or absence of victim cooperation. If the victim was cooperative, an arrest action was more likely to occur. Police took such action in 80 per cent of the cases where the victim was cooperative but in only 50 per cent of those cases where a victim did not want an arrest. Again, as with intoxication victims, an uncooperative victim may inhibit the collection of evidence for a probable cause arrest.
Type of Incident. Table 3 reveals that over the four-year study period the type of classification reported for an incident has changed significantly. The number of cases described as assault cases increased 39 per cent from 1989 to 1992, and those described as disturbances decreased by 53 per cent.
Police Report Information Policy
APD procedures require officers to complete full police reports on domestic violence calls. These reports include such information as incident area; date and time of incident; description of injuries; interview information from victim, suspect and all witnesses; collection of evidence; photographs of injuries; and a description of the sequence of events. Table 4 illustrates the results of an analysis of 1335 reports — only those in which an officer was dispatched. These results demonstrate very high compliance with departmental policy on report completion. In only one area was information missing in a large percentage of reports — that documenting employment of the parties involved in the incident.
Victim Safety Policy
APD policy requires officers to make every possible effort to ensure the safety of the victim and to inform the victim of local support services. Even in cases where there is insufficient evidence to support an arrest, the officer must supply this information to the alleged victim.
As Table 5 illustrates, in 92 per cent of the cases studied the officer took action or provided transportation or information to insure the safety of the victim. In 6 per cent the victim was uncooperative and in another 2 per cent of the cases the officer did not report on the action taken. (Tables 5 and 6 present information on only those cases in which an officer was dispatched: 1335.) Table 6 describes officer action in providing information on community resources. In 70 per cent of the cases the victim received information on these resources or transportation to insure safety. In 30 per cent, the officer failed to note what information, if any, was provided to the victim. The information presented by the data in these two tables together shows a pattern of officers facilitating the continued safety of victims.
This study finds that Anchorage police officers are closely following department policy and procedure.
Carrie D. Longoria is program manager of the Anchorage SAFE City Program. Copies of the entire report may be obtained from the SAFE City Program.