Blue light flasher atop of a police car. City lights on the background.

by Rebecca DeSantis, content and engagement coordinator, ICMA

Many cities and counties are looking for alternative strategies to a pressing community issue: domestic violence. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than half of all females in the United States who are murdered are killed by spouses or intimate partners. Hollywood, Florida, has implemented a domestic violence reduction initiative that is based on the research by PhD candidate Sara McFann of Florida International University and Rhett Cady of the Violent Crimes Unit of Hollywood and supported by Leonard Matarese of the Center for Public Safety Management (CPSM).

McFann and Matarese presented their initiative at the ICMA 2018 Annual Conference. Below are five key takeaways from Hollywood's program that local government managers can consider when addressing domestic violence in their communities.

1. Typical policing does not appropriately address domestic violence situations.

McFann explains that many cities are using traditional policing methods to handle domestic violence cases, yet they have not been shown to reduce incidents or deter offenders. For example, McFann explains that focusing resources on “hotspot” locations in the community such as a department might do for drug enforcement, does not fit domestic violence situations because the majority of incidents happen in private homes. She advocates for a shift towards intelligence gathering and crime trend analysis.

2. Shifting focus from the victim to the offender will better address the underlying issues.

Typically, in domestic violence cases, the focus is usually on the victim to initiate the criminal proceedings by filing a charge. Because of the barriers to reporting and fear of retribution, however, it is difficult to hold offenders accountable. Hollywood’s domestic violence program shifts the focus to the offender by initiating a swift response by police to the scene and implementing a not-in-custody arrest policy. By focusing on the offender, departments can target the source of the violence and work to reduce cases of domestic violence.

3. If police are taking domestic violence seriously, victims and offenders will too.

The centerpiece of this initiative is tracking cases of domestic violence. Hollywood implemented a repeat offender log that categorizes offenders based on frequency and severity of domestic violence calls to their residence. This program helps to increase the legitimacy of the police by making the process more objective. It is also due to this type of commitment from the department that victims are more likely to seek help.

4. It does not cost a lot of money to implement an offender-focused domestic violence initiative.

In fact, this model leads to several cost-saving benefits, including reducing workloads for detectives, decreasing the number of offenders going through the justice system, and preventing serious injuries and homicides. McFann suggests administrators should "look at things that are really simple and don't cost a lot of money and resources, but will still provide protection and prevention of crime."

5. Get creative with your community’s domestic violence prevention by thinking beyond the usual methods.

"There are a lot of ways to think about implementing new programs by using methods that are simple and overlooked," according to McFann. Hollywood implemented a notification element of the program that involves hand-delivered letters to offenders. These letters explain the program, define the crime, and warn of consequences, as well as offer suggestions to get help. These letters strip the offender of anonymity and help to eliminate excuses. What may seem like a simple step is having an impact on the domestic violence trends in Hollywood, and McFann is still studying the effects of these letters on the offenders and the rates of domestic violence.

What is the future for Hollywood's program and this research? McFann hopes "to contribute to the body of research that looks at the components of the program to find out why it is working the way it is. Hopefully, I can present the program and [managers] can decide what is good for them."

Interested in reading more about this domestic violence initiative in Hollywood, Florida? The speakers in this panel authored a PM magazine article in February 2018 titled “Deterring Domestic Violence.” 

Want More?

Access this presentation and 22 other ICMA 2018 Annual Conference sessions through the ICMA Virtual Annual Conference archives.


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