Law Enforcement and Public Health: An Insightful Conference

During the last two weeks, roughly a thousand participants, police practitioners, public health professionals, researchers and academics from criminology and other fields, joined the remote Philadelphia Public Health and Law Enforcement Conference (LEPH 2021). IMPRODOVA researchers took part with a panel introducing the project, presenting the training tools, and with a talk on the seemingly contradictory development of domestic violence/abuse incidence in our partner countries. During the initial lockdown periods in some cases, rates have increased but not in the dimension that was predicted by experts and media. Our researchers have looked at police data, victim studies where available, numbers of restraining orders, demand for counselling and shelter accommodation, and other indicators of a rise in DV occurrence. The report will soon be published as a Criminology Briefs book.

On the LEPH conference agenda were a number of papers looking at the malfunctioning of law enforcement responses to mental health incidents, drug-related crises, and public disturbance incidents. Issues that were misplaced in paradigms of law and order, and where police interventions escalated confrontations instead of pacifying or even solving them in a satisfying and peaceful way. In a time of increasing evidence about policing crises following the George Floyd killing together with an unrelented series of fatal shootings of black men and women at the hands of U.S. patrol officers, a police de-funding movement has gained momentum in many democratic countries. The linking of public health and law enforcement still faces structural barriers and reluctant development. IMPRODOVA Advisory Board member Auke van Dijk was among those who looked at ways to alter this and step forward to better models of co-operation.

On Friday, March 26th, a panel discussion on "Critical Approaches to Intimate Partner Violence and Law Enforcement" reviewed the achievements and also the 'unintended consequences' of the feminist movement's forty years of fight against domestic abuse. The presenters, all of them professors with practical experience backgrounds in different sectors of the criminal justice system and DV policy advisory, described the negative repercussions of punitive DV policy. This was highlighted by research on the 'alliance between police and feminism'. Historically, this followed from the introduction of mandatory arrest policies in US states. Aya Gruber who had worked as a public defender in DV cases, talked about her book, the 'Feminist War on Crime - The Unexpected Role of Women's Liberation in Mass Incarceration'. The feminist movement's lawyers' and activists' intentions to protect victims and hold perpetrators accountable through arrest, has overall not been successful. Gruber portrayed her impression that for a variety of reasons 'many women do not wish to separate'. One of them can be the status of migrant/asylum seeking females' fear of deportation, something that may also play a role in IMPRODOVA's partner societies and their migrant family women. Mediation looks by far more promising.
Since the 1970s, a formerly anti-authoritarian, civil and human rights movement which rejected criminalization, became a breeding ground for a punitive environment, the results of which contributed to mass imprisonment of black men and women. Because of this, in the 1990's the number of women in prison increased by 30%.
Professor Leigh Goodmark ('Decriminalizing Domestic Violence') has spent 25 years in courts with DV clients. Her talk looked at the consequences of the criminalization surge despite sinking crime rates. Mandatory arrests do not deter perpetrators, they do create fear which leads victims to not calling police. In Criminal Justice DV interventions, Goodmark concluded, the benefit is worse than the harm.
Professor Caroline Bettinger-Lopez had served as a DV advisor to then Vice-President Joe Biden during the Obama administration and suggested strongly to 'reframe domestic violence as a human rights violation'. Among other issues she was voicing criticism against the removal of police discretion. Generally, the 'cops are sexist' narrative was seen as unwarranted as much as generalizations about victimized females, and not as a helpful instrument for advancing better protection of victims.

With such findings in mind, Intimate Partner Violence research like IMPRODOVA will have to put stronger emphasis on victims' needs, and investigate non-criminalizing alternatives to, not all, but many criminal justice responses to violence in the family.

2021-04-07 by Prof. Dr. Joachim Kersten, Senior Research Professor and Guest Professor of Criminal Sociology at the German Police University; Coordinator of IMPRODOVA