Vol. 1, No. 1 (March 1991) pp. 20-21
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE RESPONSE by Eve S. Buzawa and Carl G. Buzawa. Newbury Park: Sage, 1990. 157 pp. Paper $14.95.
Reviewed by Alexander Weiss, Northwestern University.
In recent years a large group of scholars has examined how the criminal justice system has responded to domestic violence. Of particular interest has been the dramatic change in police policy. Many police departments that only a few years ago en- dorsed a crisis intervention approach in which arrests were to be avoided, have now adopted policies that either encourage or mandate arrest.
This apparent change in police practice raises two important questions. First, why did the police community, which is general- ly thought to be highly resistant to change, modify its policies so quickly, and second, why did police departments adopt an approach as rigid as mandatory arrest, particularly at a time when there is great movement in the police community to increase police officer discretion and to decentralize police management?
In their recent book, Eve and Carl Buzawa have sought to explain these, and other important changes in the criminal justice system's response to domestic violence. Their work will likely serve as a useful primer for students in this area. They have produced a thorough literature review and provided some valuable insights obtained through interviews with principals in the policy process. Their evaluation of domestic violence policy is particularly attractive because they relate the policy to theo- ries of domestic violence causation.
A principal thesis of this work is that even though the criminal justice system would prefer not to intervene in domestic violence, it has been influenced to do so by federal agencies, social research, lawsuits, and through the lobbying of battered women's advocates. The authors rely heavily on the research of others to support their argument. However, there are several examples of how their use of this research is problematic.
In their discussion of the Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment they argue that the study had an "enormous impact" (p.72). They provide no evidence of this impact. In fact, that impact is still the subject of considerable debate among schol- ars. They suggest further that the impetus of the Minneapolis Experiment can be found in the National Academy of Sciences report (1978) on deterrence research. Surprisingly, they fail to mention that James Q. Wilson in his foreword to the Police Foundation's study of domestic violence (1977) suggested that the study should be expanded in an "experimental and carefully controlled manner." Lawrence Sherman, the principal researcher of the Minneapolis study has credited Wilson as the inspiration for the experiment.
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In another section the authors describe the impact of the Thurman v. Torrington (1984) case. In this case the Torrington, Connecticut Police Department was found to be liable for failure to protect the civil rights of a victim of spouse assault. A large judgement was awarded to the plaintiff. Buzawa and Buzawa suggest that the fear of liability became a "prime factor" motivating police administrators to adopt pro-arrest policies. Again they provide no empirical evidence for this argument.
In addition, they suggest that the Thurman case caused a "proliferation" of class actions suits, and that police depart- ments such as "New York, Oakland and Dallas" have been operating under consent decrees. In reality, the consent degrees in both New York and Oakland were litigated long before the Thurman case (1978 and 1979 respectively).
Finally, the authors examine whether changes in police policy have influenced police practice in domestic violence cases. They argue that while police arrests for domestic vio- lence remain relatively low, police practice can now be charac- terized by its "inherent unpredictability" as compared with its previous "inaction or apathy."
These examples illustrate several critical problems in this book. First, some of the key arguments and assumptions are largely unsupported. Second, the authors are often very unequiv- ocal about issues that others are still debating, and where the evidence is still relatively weak. Third, Buzawa and Buzawa often impute causality between events merely because they are contemporaneous or because one is antecedent to the other. Fourth, they attempt to make their theory match the data. This is only way to explain how they would ascribe different descrip- tions to the same observation (eg. levels of arrests) and then try to explain why there was a "change."
In conclusion, it is important to assess this book in terms of others in this area. The literature on domestic violence contains a number of fine works, prepared with great care and rigor. There are other works, principally those of feminists and battered women's advocates, that are less rigorous but have, nonetheless, been instrumental in bringing the issue of domestic violence to the national agenda. This new work by Carl and Eve Buzawa, seems to have elements of both approaches. Unfortunate- ly, this new book will do little to either influence policy or to contribute to our knowledge in this area.