Coordinated Community Responses to Domestic Violence in Six Communities: Beyond the Justice System. Police


All of the larger communities designate special police units or staff to domestic violence cases. Every site except Baltimore has a centralized investigative unit for domestic violence within the police department. Baltimore, on the other hand, designates one or two officers in each district to serve as domestic violence specialists. This approach seems to result in quite a bit of variation in the role and experience of the designated officers in this community.

Patrol officers, who are the first to response to an incident, typically receive some training in domestic violence. Domestic violence cases are then turned over to the specialized units for further investigation. In Kansas City, for example, the responding officer at the scene notifies the domestic violence unit (which is staffed 24 hours a day) about a domestic violence incident. The investigator will then either go to the scene, meet the victim at the hospital or take other appropriate action. In Baltimore, the designated officers receive written reports on all domestic violence cases, and are supposed to follow up with the victim either by letter or by phone.

Specialized investigative units for domestic violence can help prosecutors build strong cases. Investigators in these units become very knowledgeable about what evidence the prosecutor needs and how to work with battered women to obtain this information. However, the gains made in this area do not seem to be limited to specialized units. A couple of prosecutors noted that police reports on domestic violence cases have improved department-wide, which they attributed to increased training and awareness about this issue.

Police and prosecutors who specialize in domestic violence often form close working relationships because of their routine interactions. This improves communication between the agencies and enables them to share information and resolve problems in a timely manner. San Diego has formalized the interaction between the two agencies by holding joint staff meetings for police and the City Attorney's Office every other week.