Complexities of the police response to intimate partner violence: Police officers’ perspectives on the challenges of keeping families safe.

Saxton, M.D., Jaffe, P.G., Dawson, M., Straatman, A-L., & Olszowy, L. (2020)
Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1 – 24.
Type of Profession:

This study examined police perspectives toward their response to intimate partner violence. It identified factors that impact police response, including severity and frequency of the violence, victim fear, presence of injuries, and presence of children.

Expanded Abstract: 

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is the most prevalent type of violence experienced by women. In Canada, IPV accounts for 27% of all reported violent crimes (Statistics Canada, 2016). In a recent survey of more than 2,000 Canadian IPV survivors, 35.9% indicated that they had previously reported their experience to the police (Saxton et al., 2018). Many factors influence police contact for IPV. One factor that seems to consistently predict police contact is the severity of violence (Bonomi et al., 2006; Sinha, 2013). The decision to contact the police is linked to victims’ experiences of more frequent violent incidents, fear for their lives, and sustained physical injuries (Sinha, 2013). The presence of children is another influential factor in whether a victim of IPV contacts police.

Research into police charging practices has also identified legal (e.g., injury, type of offense) and extralegal (e.g., gender, relationship status, incident location) variables as influential in their decision to lay a charge (Dawson & Hotton, 2014). Research has demonstrated that police officers’ perception of the immediacy of violence as well as the increased risk for future violence are critical factors in police decision making in IPV situations (Campbell et al., 2016; Storey et al., 2014; Trujillo & Ross, 2008). Police perception of the risk for future violence predicted whether an officer engaged in some form of action to mitigate this risk (Trujillo & Ross, 2008).

This study explored police officers’ perceptions of the challenges they face in providing an effective response to IPV as well as their recommendations for change. Two overarching questions were examined in the current study. The first focused on how police officers are engaging in IPV risk assessment and the perceived barriers they face in their response to IPV. The second question focused on identifying recommendations for change in practices that police officers perceived as helpful in their responses to IPV as well as in overcoming identified barriers.