Intimate partner violence (IPV), frequently called domestic violence, is a serious public health problem that affects millions of Americans, with far-reaching impacts not only for individual victims, but also for their families, their communities, and our economy.1“Intimate Partner Violence,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, October 9, 2020, rb.gy/9p4jlh Intimate Partner Violence. Intervention (IPVI), based on focused deterrence or pulling-levers strategies, identifies and deters individuals who commit the most serious acts of IPV, reduces IPV generally, and reduces harm to victims. Known informally as the “High Point Model for its origins in High Point, North Carolina, IPVI aims to intervene early in cycles of victimization, counter the “experiential effect” that teaches IPV offenders that they will not be held accountable for acts of violence, and shifts the burden of preventing IPV from victims to a partnership of law enforcement, advocates, service providers, and community members.“2Group Violence Intervention: An Implementation Guide,” National Network for Safe Communities, revised 2016, rb.gy/cy2zws
The focused-deterrence model asserts that, like other chronic-offender populations, IPV offenders are responsive to focused, deliberate intervention. It presents them with concrete information regarding the potential consequences of continued offending, which could effectively deter future acts of IPV. The strategy intervenes early with low-level offenders and puts other offenders on notice that continued or escalating violence will be met with a meaningful legal response. The strategy also offers outreach and support to offenders interested in stopping their violent behavior, while taking deliberate steps to deter the most dangerous offenders from continued offending. As with other focused deterrence–based strategies, IPVI utilizes direct communication with offenders through letters, phone calls, or in-person visits from law enforcement. For a small number of chronic offenders, it also utilizes the call-in, a face-to-face meeting between offenders, representatives from law enforcement and support services, and community members.
IPVI prioritizes victim safety through affirmative outreach and a parallel victim support structure that links victims to social service agencies that can provide criminal justice information and advocacy, safety planning, case management, and other necessary services.
In High Point, an analysis of a decade of arrest data demonstrated that the majority of repeat IPV offenders had lengthy criminal histories beyond IPV. In particular, the analysis showed that repeat IPV offenders in High Point had lengthy histories related to group and drug violence, which focused deterrence–based strategies had already proven to be effective at addressing.3David Kennedy, “Drugs, Race and Common Ground: Reflections on the High Point Intervention,” NIJ (National Institute of Justice) Journal 262 (March 8, 2009), rb.gy/q932rp. Prior to the implementation of the pilot in High Point, calls for service related to IPV were the highest category of calls; in the first three years of implementation, such calls dropped to third-highest. Similarly, reoffense rates decreased from 30-40 percent to 14 percent across more than 1,200 offenders.4Marty A. Sumner, “High Point, NC Focuses on Offenders to Deter Domestic Violence,” Battered Women’s Justice Project, July 2015, rb.gy/cw2huf.
IPVI, as with other focused-deterrence programs, requires active and consistent collaboration between law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, social service providers, and other community groups. An interagency team is necessary to coordinate the approach, and the agencies and organizations involved need to dedicate staff members and other resources to complete tasks such as analyzing data, identifying participants, communicating with recipients of the intervention, running formal intervention meetings, carrying out enforcement efforts, and coordinating victim-centered service provisions.
Strategy in Practice
In 2009, the High Point Police Department partnered with researcher David M. Kennedy, the Guilford County District Attorney’s Office, High Point Community Against Violence, Family Service of the Piedmont, and University of North Carolina–Greensboro researchers to develop and implement a focused deterrence–based strategy to identify and stop serious and chronic IPV offenders. The partnership established the following overarching goals:
- Protect victims who are most at risk from the most dangerous abusers.
- Transfer the burden of addressing abusers from victims to the state and law enforcement.
- Mobilize the community’s moral voice against violence and enhance law enforcement’s legitimacy through direct, procedurally just messaging regarding potential consequences for continued offending.
- Counter the experiential effect—i.e., counter the narrative in which offenders learn that certain types of IPV are tolerable and evasion of consequences is possible—through the delivery of swift and certain sanctions for IPV offending.
- When necessary, enhance law enforcement’s focus on the varied criminal activity of the most dangerous abusers and hold them accountable by pulling levers in order to keep the community safe.
The partnership also recognized that adapting a focused-deterrence strategy to combat IPV would necessitate a special focus on victim engagement and safety to ensure that victims received notification and services at every level of abuse. To this end, it identified four levels of IPV offenders:
- A-list: three or more previous IPV charges
- B-list: second charge of IPV and violation of prohibited behavior
- C-list: first charge for an IPV offense
- D-list: suspected of IPV, no probable cause for arrest5Sumner, “High Point, NC Focuses on Offenders.”
Coordination and collaboration between law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, social service providers, and community groups may be challenging. Buy-in and cooperation from all stakeholders are essential to communicating IPVI goals to community members and to comprehensive implementation of the program.
Partners providing social services should represent the varying needs of offenders and victims. Sustained investment in social service providers is critical to the success of this deterrence model.
Agencies, Organizations, and Other Necessary Partners
Collaboration among a community-wide network of partners is the cornerstone of focused deterrence–based strategies such as IPVI. These partners will likely include federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, local and federal prosecutors, courts and correctional agencies, social service providers, community leaders, researchers, and local IPV advocates.
What Else You Need to Know
Although studies have shown that focused-deterrence strategies are associated with moderate crime-reduction effects, there are some research gaps that still need to be addressed. One such gap is that the current research on focused-deterrence programs does not shed light on which of the program elements were the most important in reducing repeat offenses.
Newsroom & Resources
Battered Women’s Justice Project, “High Point, NC Focuses on Offenders to Deter Domestic Violence”
National Network for Safe Communities, Intimate Partner Violence Intervention
National Network for Safe Communities, Group Violence Intervention: An Implementation Guide