Charging and Prosecution Policies in Cases of Spousal Assault: a Synthesis of Research, Academic, and Judicial Responses

3. Police Perspectives on the Policy

In the London, Ontario study, Jaffe et al (1991) noted a trend that indicated growing police support for the mandatory charging policy over the course of its implementation. Fifty percent of officers in 1990 felt that the policy was effective in helping battered women and stopping family violence, compared with only 33% in 1985. Two-thirds of the officers agreed that the policy promoted an important message to the community. Further, 77.5% of the officers believed that victims were more likely to follow through with a prosecution when police lay charges than when the victim did. However, 35% of the police surveyed felt that the implementation of the policy had some negative side effects, including victims of domestic violence being hesitant to call police. Similarly, 30% of police officers in a study conducted by the Women’s Policy Office in Newfoundland and Labrador thought that the charging policy made female victims’ lives more difficult (Newfoundland, 1993).

The suggestion in the study of Jaffe et al (1991) that police conformity to the mandatory charging policy gradually increased over time, has been reinforced to some degree by the experience in Manitoba. Ursel and Brickey (1996) documented a 145% increase in spousal assault charges over an eight-year period following the introduction of a police charging policy. The researchers’ data suggested that police compliance with the policy was gradual and became more consistent over the years.

Interestingly, in the study conducted by Jaffe et al (1991), the most progressive views about the value of the charging policy were held by supervisory police officers and officers with four or more years of experience. Similar findings have been derived from a questionnaire aimed at gaining a better understanding of front-line officers’ perceptions of a pro-charge policy implemented in Metropolitan Toronto. Hannah-Moffat (1995) found that six of seventeen officers supported the policy, and that support for the policy was divided by years of experience: all six officers supporting the policy had a minimum of seven years experience on the police force.

The Jaffe et al (1991) study also asked officers to rank in order of importance the factors that influenced their decision to lay an assault charge in response to a domestic violence call. Overall, officers chose the existence of corroborating evidence as the primary factor, with the apparent willingness of the victim to testify and the apparent seriousness of victim injuries identified as secondary factors. The use of such “legal factors”, such as availability of evidence, and “quasi-legal factors”, such as victim co-operation, to determine if arrest is warranted has been of some concern to researchers. Faubert and Hinch (1996), for example, have noted the possibility that the interpretation of such legal factors may be influenced by individual officer perceptions, the use of stereotypes, and conceptualizations of gender roles. Moreover, Hannah-Moffat (1995) has noted that non-legal factors, such as the attitude of the offender and victim towards the police and the presence of alcohol or drugs, are important factors influencing the police decision to lay a charge.

While there are some indications that police are increasingly complying with domestic violence charging protocols, it is clear that further research is needed to assess the consistency with which this is being accomplished across the country. It is equally clear that more extensive research needs to be undertaken to evaluate the factors which lead officers to lay charges and make arrests in some situations, but not in others. Until further research in these areas is undertaken, it will be difficult to formulate any hard conclusions as to the extent to which mandatory charging policies have been “accepted” and properly adhered to by the police officers responsible for implementing them.

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