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Study Calls Into Question Mandatory Arrests After Domestic Violence

Long Term Data Shows More Premature Deaths When Partners Arrested Rather Than Warned


A new study challenges the effectiveness of a state law requiring police to arrest someone when they respond to a domestic violence incident. Some experts warn, however, the study may be flawed.

The study found that African-American victims of domestic violence whose partners were arrested on misdemeanor charges rather than given a warning were, in the long term, ten times more likely to die earlier of natural causes than their white counterparts. Most of the victims who later died prematurely were found to have died from heart disease, cancer or other internal illnesses.

The study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, looked at data from 1987 to 1989 about domestic violence victims in Milwaukee: some of their partners were arrested and spent some hours in jail, and some were warned but not brought into the police station. The authors say mandatory arrests may have increased post-traumatic stress on the victims, leading to their premature death.

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UW-Madison social work Professor Dr. Darald Hanusa, however, says it’s not clear whether the study considered other factors, like poverty, that can contribute to early death.

“Did they control for access to community health care and actual utilization of health care? Did they control for education?” Hanusa asked. “Because we know that among African American citizens, those factors are going to be different, and they definitely could impact someone’s health.”

Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney says his department has found that mandatory arrest helps to create a cooling-off period between victims and perpetrators. Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn will respond to the study’s findings later Monday.