DVERTing Domestic Violence: The Domestic Violence Enhanced Response Team

Article excerpt

The year 1984 marked a turning point for the way many police agencies responded to domestic violence incidents. The Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment indicated that arresting offenders reduced recidivism more than separating couples or providing mediation.(1) In response, many police departments developed mandatory arrest policies.

Yet, subsequent studies produced different results. In Colorado Springs, Colorado, for example, the police department's study of more than 1,600 cases revealed that of four law enforcement responses-restoring order, providing crisis intervention, issuing emergency protection orders, or arresting offenders - custodial arrest emerged as only slightly more effective in reducing recidivism rates. While the original experiment and subsequent replication studies may not have pinpointed the most effective singular approach to domestic violence cases, they did illustrate the difficulty that a single community agency faces when attempting to determine the appropriate intervention for a complex issue like domestic violence.

Indeed, the Colorado Springs Police Department discovered that no easy answers exist where domestic violence is concerned. But committed to developing innovative strategies to combat domestic violence, the department developed a program to pool the resources of community organizations, intervene in the most volatile cases, and reach out to victims in rural areas. This program, the Domestic Violence Enhanced Response Team (DVERT), accomplishes all of these objectives and more.

An Evolutionary Process

DVERT did not materialize overnight. Rather, it grew slowly from firmly established and well-nurtured roots. First, the department established a protocol to guide police officers during domestic violence calls. In conjunction with the development of these police response standards, the district attorney s office created a companion set of guidelines for prosecutors. The local domestic violence counseling and shelter program also joined these collaborative efforts. The new procedures improved the community's response by requiring mandatory arrest of perpetrators when probable cause existed, implementing emergency protective orders to keep victims safe, using a special form to enhance information gathering by the district attorney, and advising victims of their legal rights and available services. In addition, the district attorney agreed to prosecute domestic violence offenders with or without the cooperation of the victims.

Next, the department appointed a domestic violence coordinator. This full-time, sworn position allows the department to improve current policies, procedures, and protocols and to respond better to the needs of victims. For example, after evaluating state domestic violence and stalking laws, the coordinator worked to establish a regional domestic violence offender tracking system. And, in keeping with the department's community policing philosophy, this position requires maintaining community-based efforts to refine and enhance the collective responses to domestic violence.

Finally, the Pikes Peak Domestic Violence Coalition Protocol Committee, whose members include law enforcement, social services, and clinical personnel, developed and distributed a questionnaire to evaluate the effectiveness of the community's domestic violence protocols, as well as to identify significant issues and obstacles to their implementation. Staff from Colorado University's Colorado Springs Center for Justice Studies analyzed the results. While they applauded the collaborative efforts of law enforcement, criminal justice, and other public and private agencies to arrest and prosecute domestic violence offenders, the findings also identified the need for changes in existing practices, along with "...increased communication, training, and further study and evaluation." Specifically, the survey results pointed to the need to

* Improve and expand criminal justice programs and procedures to prosecute, convict, and sentence domestic violence offenders

* Better develop, preserve, and present the legally relevant facts in domestic violence cases. …