Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research: For Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges

Published June 2009

Chapter 2. Reporting and Arrests

Section 11 — What should law enforcement's response be if the suspect is gone when they arrive?

A large percentage of alleged abusers leave the crime scene before law enforcement arrives. Where noted, absence rates range from 42 to 66 percent. [23, 50, 117, 196, 227, 228] Pursuing alleged abusers, including the issuance of warrants, is associated with reduced revictimization. [50] Pursuing absent suspects may be of particular utility because limited research finds that suspects who flee the scene before police arrive are significantly more likely to have prior criminal histories and to reabuse than those arrested at the scene. [23] Similarly, another study finds higher reabuse if the victim is gone when officers arrive. [228]

Implications for Law Enforcement

Law enforcement officers should make the arrest of abusers who flee the scene a priority. (Research basis: Numerous studies confirm that a large proportion of abusers flee the scene; only one study has looked at differences in records of those who fled the scene and those who didn't.)

Performance Measure: According to a national survey, 68 percent of police departments have specific policies that cover policies and procedures for responding law enforcement officers if the perpetrator is gone when they arrive. [213] In a study of the south shore communities of Massachusetts, researchers documented that police arrested 100 percent of abusers present at the scene and arrested or issued warrants for a majority (54 percent) who left the scene, for a total arrest or warrant rate of about 75 percent. [23 Similarly, a statewide New York study found that half of the domestic violence suspects fled the scene, but local police ultimately arrested 60 percent of those who fled. [165] (Research basis: State law varies regarding the power of police to arrest after the incident. Time limits are not restricted in Massachusetts or New York, where these results were documented.)

Implications for Prosecutors

Prosecutors should encourage law enforcement officers to file warrants for abusers who flee the scene and prepare reports for subsequent prosecution when arrests are made. Similarly, prosecutors should assist victims to file criminal complaints if necessary to allow for the prosecution of abusers who have left the scene before police arrived. (Research basis: Numerous studies confirm that a large proportion of abusers flee the scene. Only one study has looked at differences in records of those who fled the scene and those who didn't.)

Date Created: June 5, 2009