POLICING IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE: Comparing Firsthand Knowledge with Experience from the West,
© 1996 College of Police and Security Studies, Slovenia


David Butzer
Lois Martin Bronfman
Brian Stipak

In 1993 the Portland Police Bureau created a special unit, the Domestic Violence Reduction Unit (DVRU), designed to reduce the level of domestic violence. A product of the philosophy of community policing, the DVRU represented a new way of doing police work, one that more accurately reflected the cultural values of the community in the enforcement of the law. The formation of the Unit symbolized the growing view that domestic violence resulted in public crimes and required special attention. The DVRU's mission is to investigate selected domestic violence cases, promote deterrence, assist victims, interrupt the cycle of violence and its continuation from one generation to the next, and aid local and regional efforts to respond to domestic violence. This paper explores the implementation of the DVRU, including its relationship to community policing, the historical development of the unit, the DVRU's role within the Police Bureau and the community, and the significance of these changes for enhancing police work and in reducing the level of domestic violence within the community.


Scenario 1: 1972, Portland, Oregon

A neighbor calls the police because the people next door are having in police parlance a "family beef". The caller says that she can hear screaming and glass breaking. She says that this has happened before and she wants the noise to stop. The police know this address; they have been to the house before. Four officers are dispatched to the address. Parking down the street they walk quietly up to the front door and listen. There is loud screaming. The officers knock and the screaming stops. No one comes to the door. The officers knock again and announce themselves. This time, a man answers the door. The officers ask what is going on and the man replies "nothing" Then he adds that he and his girlfriend were arguing over putting new sheets on their bed and that the police are not needed. The house smells of alcohol and two small children can be heard crying in the next room. The officer, who has been to the house before, asks to talk with the woman. The man says that she is fine and that there is no need for her to come to the door. The officer tells the man that if the woman does not come to the door, he is coming into the house. The man hollers for the women to "get over here and tell these cops you're OK". The woman comes to the door. The officers can tell that she is frightened, that her blouse is torn and that she has visible scratches. The officer tells the couple that they were making too much noise and that they need to hold it down. The couple says nothing and the officers shake their heads and leave. Forty minutes later, the police are called to the same house over the same complaint---too much noise. The same previous scene repeats itself; however, this time the woman has a cut on her arm. The man tells the police that she fell down. The police tell the man not to hurt her, and that they don't want to return again tonight. The man says nothing and the officers leave.

Fifteen minutes later, another call. This time the officers see that there are a lot of broken dishes, the furniture is broken and the woman is in tears. The officer asks the women if she is willing to press charges. The man, answering for her, says NO! The officers tell the man to be quiet or he will go to jail. The man says the officer cannot talk to him like that in his house and he wants them to leave. The tension mounts. The man is becoming more aggressive toward the officers and raises his hand back as if he is going to swing at one of officers. There is not much of a fight as he is too drunk. He is handcuffed and arrested for harassing an officer. As the officers leave the woman screams, "Don't hurt him, I didn't want him arrested."

Scenario 2: 1996, Portland, Oregon

A neighbor calls the police because the people next door are having a loud argument and she is concerned for the woman's safety. The officers arrive and enter the house after knocking. There are broken dishes and the couple is struggling with each other. Separating the couple, the woman is taken into the kitchen and the man is taken outside. The woman shows the officer scratches on her arm and the marks around her neck--hidden by her sweater--which she says resulted from when he tried to choke her. The officer explains to the woman that under the mandatory arrest law, the man must be arrested because there is probable cause that a domestic violence crime has occurred. The officer asks the women if she wants to leave for a safer place. The women says she is fine as long as he goes to jail. She is assured by the officer that the man will go to jail and will not be released until the court hearing the next day at 1400. The officer explains the process by which she can get a family abuse restraining order and encourages the woman to follow through with prosecution. She says she is not sure she will go that far. The officer talks about the "cycle of violence" and refers her to the Domestic Violence Reduction Unit (DVRU). Outside the man tells the police that he and his girlfriend were just having an argument. Then she hit him for no reason. The officers confer, read the man his rights and he is taken to jail. A copy of the police report is sent to the DVRU.

The next morning, an officer from the DVRU calls the woman and offers information about filing a restraining order and support in developing a safety plan. The officer explains that she must take some type of action to stop the violence. The woman agrees but says she is afraid. The officer provides information on victim advocate services. The woman says that she will take action and get a restraining order. She asks the officer to go with her to the court hearing, however. The officer agrees. In the next few days she calls for additional advice and support.


In 1993 the City of Portland's Police Bureau began an experiment which was designed to reduce the level of domestic violence through the creation of a special unit, the Domestic Violence Reduction Unit (DVRU). In operation for over three years, the mission of the unit is to investigate selected domestic violence cases, promote deterrence, assist victims, interrupt the continuation of violence from one generation to the next, and assist in local and regional efforts to respond to domestic violence. One of only several specialized units dealing with domestic violence crime in the United States, the DVRU from its inception has been the embodiment of the philosophy of community policing. In describing the evolution and operation of the DVRU, this paper focuses attention on the changing role of police in combating domestic violence; it documents the policies and procedures of community policing which have facilitated this change, and it assesses the role of these changes in redefining policy work and in reducing the level of domestic violence crime.


Since the turn of the century, police work has changed in the United States, as have the community's expectations of the police. The gunfighter gave way to the billy-club-swinging, dumb-but-strong beat cop, who was in turn replaced by the professional, technology-supported and sometimes arrogant expert in crime. With the influence of community policing, this image of the policeman is now evolving into a cooperative, responsive and respectful community partner. The change is slow, persistent, and on-going. It is reflected most obviously in those officers who work under the philosophy of community policing and in the emergence of specialized areas of enforcement which have evolved from changes in community expectations of law enforcement. The role of the police officer in combating domestic violence is a prime example of this evolution.

Police agencies attribute the change in law enforcement strategies to a number of factors. Key among theses are the efforts to de-politicize and professionalize police forces in the early part of the century. These efforts resulted in the adoption of a military chain of command model for the agencies and in routinizing policies and procedures within a Bureaucratic hierarchy which was subject to limited community oversight. While the efforts did much to curb corruption in police work, they also contributed to the separation of the police officer from the community.

Technology and science were additional factors which affected change. Air-conditioned cars and radios transformed and enlarged the officer's beat while placing him within a metal fortress which tended to isolate him from the citizens in his jurisdiction. New weapons tended to replace person-to-person, and sometimes political, problem solving strategies, in favor of swift and forceful technological fixes. And the adoption of scientific investigative techniques transformed the officer into an agent of science, an expert crime fighter, who by definition knew more about solving crimes then the general public. This transformation was supported and encouraged with federal monies funneled to nearly every police jurisdiction within the U.S.

While the forces of technological change were transforming police work they were also providing new opportunities for agencies to assess their strategies and for citizens to scrutinize police actions. Computers and improved techniques for reporting and recording crime encouraged research which evaluated police tactics and which challenged the existing paradigms for law enforcement. At the same time, the televised reports of the civil rights and anti-war demonstrations of the 1960's and 1970's which appeared nightly in living rooms across the country increased opportunities for law abiding citizens to view the sometimes heavy-handed tactics of police. Many in the public became highly critical. The law enforcement officer was no longer the quasi- anonymous agent of the State he was the all too familiar "pig".

As the officer became more visible, a variety of forces were working to both expand and redefine the role of the officer in the community. The civil rights movement drew increasing attention to the activities of the police and new demands for change in police agencies. As a consequence of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, police recruited and trained more women and minorities as officers. Lawsuits forced change in police tactics toward perpetrators, and there was growing concern for the rights and needs of the victims. As crime continued to increase the federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration provided additional monies to police agencies to help educate their officers, to buy more law enforcement equipment, and to promote new enforcement strategies.

By the 1980's the evidence suggested to many police administrators that the problems of enforcement needed to be re-thought. Crime rates were the same despite an increase in the number of individuals incarcerated, and citizen perceptions of police officers and police work were negative despite recent efforts to recruit and train more educated and professional officers and to be more responsive to the community concerns. Out of the federally-funded studies to evaluate alternative strategies to deal with crime came two important conclusions: 1) uniform patrol does not affect crime rates, and 2) neighborhood attitudes do affect the rate of crime. Exploring new options a few agencies began to experiment with "community policing". While not universally applied or implemented in the same manner, advocates shared a common goal: reduce crime by reducing the barriers between the police and the local citizens and involving of the local community in the development of crime prevention and enforcement strategies.1 While still evolving, the implications of this perspective have had substantial impacts on law enforcement, including the role of the police officer in combating domestic violence.


Until the middle of the century there were few challenges to the prevailing norm in American society that "a man's home is his castle" . Reinforced by the legacy of English Common Law which established the "rule of thumb" for the size of the rod which could be used to beat a wife, most domestic violence was not perceived as criminal behavior. The criminal justice agencies supported the view that a man is free to do what he wishes in the privacy of his own home, and that intimate relationships, with the exception of murder and child abuse, were subject to cultural but not to legal constraints. For the police officer the domestic violence incident was at best a nuisance and at worst a very dangerous situation to be avoided, if possible. Moreover, even if the officer thought the situation warranted an arrest, he was constrained by what he knew were the realities of legal system. What good was an arrest when there would be no prosecution? Either the victim would not prosecute or the district attorney would not issue the case. One Oregon lawyer tells the story of a case of a particularly vicious assault of a wife by her husband, but the district attorney refused to prosecute. When the lawyer questioned the district attorney he responded, "Give me a call, if she's dead. Otherwise I don't want to hear from you."

The civil rights and feminist movements of the 1960's helped to fuel the efforts of the advocates for battered women to mobilize and speak out against the prevailing paradigm of enforcement. In a society in which men and women should have equal rights, they argued, men have no right to beat up their wives. Domestic violence is a crime.2 Organizing at the local and national levels, the advocates for battered women sought national recognition of the issue and called on local police to enforce the laws. By 1978 the issue had officially emerged on the national agenda as part of a Civil Rights Commission Report challenging law enforcement agencies to recognize domestic violence as a crime;3 and by the late 1980's Congress mandated the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration to focus on the "role of the criminal justice system in preventing and controlling violence and abusive behavior in the home".4

The initial police response was to argue that arrest was not particularly useful. Crisis management, they argued, was a better approach. Undaunted, the advocates persisted in their efforts to establish domestic violence as a crime. They filed suits against individual police officers and their employers for failure to enforce the law. They followed by introducing legislation in various states to clarify the responsibility of the officer and to provide protection for the victim. At this time most states in the U.S. have domestic violence legislation defining domestic violence as a crime.


While the specific content varies from state to state, domestic violence legislation during the past decade has taken the following general form. First, the legislation takes the responsibility for determining if there was a crime out of the hands of the victim and gives it clearly to the officer. For years, officers were reluctant to arrest because victims were unwilling to admit that they had been hurt. Data collected by several agencies, in fact, suggested that police seldom made arrests, often less than ten percent of the time.5 The intent of the new legislation was to increase the frequency of arrest. The laws dictate that if an officer has "probable cause" to believe that a crime occurred then he may arrest even if the victim does not cooperate. Some states went even further and mandated the officer to arrest in these situations, and made him liable if he did not.

Second, the legislation also laid out the relational conditions which defined a domestic violence situation. While there is some variation across states, the following relationships come under the definition of "family" in most states:

Legislation also defined the criminal parameters of domestic violence. While the advocates for battered women argue that abuse often constitutes a pattern of psychological and physical abuse in which the are many incidents, not all of which appear on the surface to be abusive, the state laws view each incident individually. In determining whether the incident constitutes a crime the laws require physical injury or evidence of menacing in each incident.

Individual states also passed legislation that extended to the victim some tools for defense in the form of protective restraining orders and stalking orders. Violations of either of these orders constitutes a felony offense. It is within this emerging context of cultural and legal support for combating domestic violence crimes that police agencies attempted to define their new roles as community police officers. 6


Result in Formation of Domestic Violence Reduction Unit

The Portland Police Bureau provides an example of a police agency dealing with this re-definition of domestic violence. It did so within the context of adopting a "community policing" approach to its mission. In the late 1980's the Portland Police Bureau recognized that the reactive patrol investigations which had been the model for enforcement in the city were not reducing crime. Gangs were taking over neighborhoods and citizens' fear of crime was on the increase. Responding to other national efforts to develop new methods for dealing with crime, the Bureau investigated the potential of "community policing" as a new management strategy. Unlike other agencies in the country, the Bureau involved the community from the beginning in re-focusing and redesigning Bureau management.

By 1990 the Bureau had adopted a plan that provided a road map for transforming the Portland Police Bureau to community policing. Central to the new mission of the Bureau were three objectives:

When in 1992 the Bureau identified a need to provide additional services to families, particularly juveniles, the community policing philosophy required that the agency turn to the local community to assist in defining the new programs. Over one hundred local community leaders and groups were consulted. Several key groups provided guidance. One of these groups, the Family Violence Intervention Steering Committee (FVISC), grew out of an earlier collaboration between feminist activists and the judiciary and is composed of representatives from law enforcement, prosecution, the judiciary, corrections, the domestic violence shelters, the counseling services, and medical services. Meeting once a month, the group is dedicated to addressing the problem of family violence in the community through sharing information, discussing strategies and coordinating efforts regarding family violence, and scrutinizing the responses of public agencies to the problem.

While the FVISC is a highly visible advocate for policies to reduce domestic violence, there also exists within the community other motivated and activated groups which have for years worked to place the issue of domestic violence on the public agenda. Community activists opened the first domestic violence shelters in the early 1970's to provide shelter for battered women, and assisted in obtaining funding for a family violence project. By the early 1990's many women who had long supported the domestic violence movement held leadership positions in agencies and elected bodies. When the police department turned to the community for input, the activists pushed for a new police strategy that addressed the problem of domestic violence. True to the philosophy of community policing, the Bureau not only consulted with the outside groups but also followed their advice. The agency rethought the design of the proposed Family Services Division, and focused it's mission on the problem of domestic violence.


In designing an administrative framework for the DVRU, the Bureau began by looking for models in other police agencies that had designed specialized units for dealing with domestic violence.7 Once again, the Bureau followed the community policing approach of looking to the community for new perspectives. Discussions were held with the district attorney and with judges to understand the expectations of the prosecutor and the courts. Local leaders in the battered women's movement served in a consultant role by training the officers to recognize the cycle of domestic violence, a pattern of recurring conflict between the victim and perpetrator that often escalates in intensity and severity. They argued that to reduce domestic violence crime the police must intervene in the cycle of violence by increasing the prosecution of perpetrators and by supporting and "empowering" the victim. From this perspective, they argued that the police must change their behavior. Not only were officers to respond to the actions of the perpetrator by rigorously enforcing the laws, they needed to become advocates for the victim. They called for increased cooperation between the police and other public safety agencies to enhance reporting and enforcement, argued for a specialized unit that would rely not only on arrest but also on a variety of other strategies for reducing domestic violence. These strategies included empowering victims, and enhanced reporting and enforcement. The product of their input to the community policing philosophy was the creation in 1993 of a specialized unit, the Domestic Violence Reduction Unit.


The DVRU is a specialized unit within the Portland Police Bureau composed of six officers, an Hispanic outreach worker, a sergeant, and a captain. The unit's mission is to decrease the level of domestic violence. Figure 1 illustrates the logic underlying the DVRU and its efforts to accomplish its goal.


As discussed above, Figure 1 illustrates that creation of the DVRU resulted from community demands and from adoption of the community policing approach. To accomplish its mission, the DVRU investigates domestic violence incidents, helps the district attorney in prosecuting offenders, aids victims in getting restraining orders, and facilitates obtaining arrest warrants. The DVRU also involves the victim, coordinates with other agencies, and trains officers and promotes community education. As Figure 1 shows, the intended result of these activities is to deter offenders, empower victims, and enhance domestic violence reporting and enforcement. The eventual end result is accomplishment of the unit's mission, the reduction of domestic violence.

There are approximately 6,200 domestic violence cases reported annually in Portland, a city of 400,000 population. These reports are about 80% misdemeanors and 20% felonies, and represent 30% of all person to person crimes. All of these reports are sent to the DVRU for review daily, but the focus of the unit's activities is on the misdemeanor offenses, most of which are simple assaults.8 In the past such cases were the least likely to be considered by the police as criminal acts. With the change in the laws and with the emphasis on community policing this perspective changed. The simple assault is now viewed as an early criminal act in a cycle of violence that is likely to escalate. Intervention through enhanced enforcement and victim support could disrupt this cycle and should in the long run reduce the overall incidence of domestic violence.


The DVRU receives a copy of all of the domestic violence cases the day after they are filed, and an officer makes an effort to telephone each one of the victims within a few days of the incident. In these initial phone contacts the officer takes on the role of a counselor with the victim. The officer discusses with the victim her safety and provides information about her rights under the law. The officer informs the victim of the procedures for obtaining restraining orders and/or stalking orders. The officer also discusses with the victim the pattern of violence in her relationship. At no time does an officer tell the victim what she must do. The goal is to empower the victim to take non-violent and safe action to protect herself.


In approximately ten percent of the cases the officers will "work" the case. Working a case may involve conducting further investigations to gather additional information in order to make an arrest or to insure prosecution. They may also assist victims in taking actions to prosecute or to obtain restraining orders, walking them through the maze of legal institutions. For example, officers often take pictures of the victim's wounds for the prosecutor, assist the victim in filling out restraining order forms, accompany the victim to the court for the restraining order hearings, and serve the order to the offender. In these efforts the officer combines the role of the traditional police officer with that a counselor.

The officers' work is not restricted to work generated by reports written. As the unit's reputation grows within the department, street officers are increasingly calling on the unit for backup support. They may ask the unit's officers for advice, and request assistance in gathering evidence and supporting the victim. Likewise, the district attorney utilizes the unit to improve the quality of evidence submitted for prosecution.


The effort of the DVRU to provide support to the victim is not limited to facilitating the victim's involvement with other criminal justice institutions. Frequently an officer will make referrals to other agencies for additional non-legal support. In this regard the officers may work with the local domestic violence shelters, with the child welfare agencies, with agencies serving the elderly, and with agencies dealing specifically with minority populations in the city.

While resources have not permitted assignment of specific officers to each of the different cultural groups within the city, the need for specialization has become apparent as the officers have had more experience interacting with the victims and support agencies for these populations. The unit currently has one non-sworn Hispanic case worker, who serves as the first contact point for all domestic violence cases involving a Hispanic victim. Also, there is a Russian speaking officer who works closely with the Russian Pentecostal population in the city. With both of these groups, the officer and case manager implement culturally sensitive counseling and enforcement efforts within the rubric of the dominant culture's legal position on domestic violence. Such an effort fits well within the community policing philosophy.


The unit's activities to reduce domestic violence are not restricted to working with individual cases. The unit is also a source of training for other officers in the police department. Each week new recruits are sent to the unit for forty hours of training. In addition to becoming more familiar with their enforcement responsibilities under the domestic violence laws, these young recruits are given the opportunity to learn the unit's approach to domestic violence cases by observing the work of the unit's officers. They learn about the cycle of violence; they practice a script for supporting and empowering the victims; and they refine their tools for enforcement. The object of this training is to have these recruits apply the new knowledge and tools they learn in the unit to their work back out on the street.

The unit also engages in education efforts outside of the Portland Police Bureau. In 1995 the unit gave ninety-five presentations to community groups. The presentations aim at educating people about the issues of domestic violence crime. In addition, officers from the unit have provided training to over twenty other police agencies in the United States.


We do not yet have sufficient data to evaluate definitively how successful the DVRU has been in reducing domestic violence crimes. Police records have only recently begun to track domestic violence reports. However, we do have some preliminary evidence for evaluating the DVRU.

A preliminary program evaluation was conducted of the DVRU during 1993-94 as part of a larger project funded by the National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice.9 This evaluation was carried out by researchers at Portland State University, working in close cooperation with the Portland Police Bureau.10 The report for this preliminary evaluation was published in 1995,11 and a more thorough follow-up evaluation, also funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, is currently in process.12 The 1995 report found that the DVRU appeared to result in increased domestic violence restraining orders and persecution rates, and also may have an effect in lowering recidivism. That study also did follow-up interviews of domestic violence victims, and found that victims receiving DVRU services expressed greater satisfaction with police services and seemed not only more likely to get restraining orders, but also more able to help themselves in other ways.

There is also some evidence that the DVRU has had an effect on officer attitudes toward domestic violence. During approximately the same period, two surveys were conducted within the Portland Police Bureau of Bureau employees. Although primarily job satisfaction surveys, these surveys also asked questions about the importance of eighteen different police activities, including the activity "making arrests for domestic assaults". In the first survey (1993), that activity was rated 13th in importance, but moved up in the second survey to 7th.13 This was by far the largest increase in perceived importance of any of the eighteen activities. In other words, in the period following formation of the DVRU the importance of making arrests for domestic violence assaults increased greatly in the eyes of police officers.

Although the primary focus in evaluating the DVRU has been on the impact on domestic violence crimes, another possible positive effect could be on improvements in how street officers handle domestic violence calls. The evidence cited above about changes in officer attitudes supports this possibility. Also, informal conversations within the Bureau have suggested that the mandatory arrest legislation combined with the services of the DVRU provide tools for street officers that can alleviate their frustration in handling these types of cases. As a consequence, street officers may be more effective in handling domestic violence calls and may resort less to crude tactics such as punitive use of force against the offender.


The Domestic Violence Reduction Unit in the Portland Police Bureau demonstrates how acting on the values of community policing can result in the integration of fresh perspectives and new approaches into police work. Perhaps more importantly, it illustrates how implementing community policing strategies can result in a closer alignment between the police agency and the community. The community policing perspective required a conscious effort to consult with different groups within the community, and to incorporate those groups into the process of creating the DVRU unit, its priorities, and strategies. In a democratic society such consultation with the community helps tie the police agency into the society, and helps the agency to adapt to societal changes. Community policing can make a difference, but it takes more than rhetoric: it takes real action as illustrated by the creation and implementation of the Domestic Violence Reduction Unit.


1. For an overview of community policing, see Kenneth J. Peak and Ronald W. Glensor, Community Policing and Problem Solving (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1996), and Robert Trojanowicz and Bonnie Bucqueroux, Community Policing (Cincinnati: Anderson Pub. Co., 1990).

2. See R. Emerson Dobash and Russel P. Dobash, Women, Violence, and Social Change (New York: Rutledge Press, 1992).

3. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Battered Women: Issues of Public Policy (Washington D.C.: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1978). See also the follow-up report U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Under the Rule of Thumb: Battered Women and the Administration of Justice (Washington D.C.: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1982).

4. Dobash and Dobash, p. 177.

5. See, for example, K. Ferraro, "Policing Woman Battering", Social Problems, vol. 36 (1989), 61-74, and C. D. Emerson, "Family Violence: A Study by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department", Police Chief, vol. 46 (1979), 48-50.

6. For a general reference covering the modern role of police in domestic violence, and the recent research on that role, see Lawrence W. Sherman, Policing Domestic Violence (New York: The Free Press, 1992). For a feminist perspective on the research, see Joan Zorza and Lauri Woods, Mandatory Arrest (New York: National Center on Women and Family Law, 1994), and Joan Zorza and Lauri Woods, Analysis and Policy Implications of the New Domestic Violence Police Studies (New York: National Center on Women and Family Law, 1994).

7. Other police departments that had earlier established specialized domestic violence units included Arlington, Virginia, Nashville, Tennessee, and San Diego, California.

8. Most felony cases remain exclusively in the jurisdiction of the detective unit.

9. NIJ Grant ID# 92-IJ-CX-K037

10. The initial design for this evaluation is described in Brian Stipak et al., PSU Report, Collected Working Papers: Phase 2, PPB NIJ Project, Center for Urban Studies, Portland State University, 1993.

11. Annette Jolin and Maria Clavadetscher, Implementation and Assessment of a Community Policing Unit to Address Domestic Violence in Portland, Oregon, Center for Urban Studies, Portland State University, 1995.

12. NIJ Grant ID# 95-I-C-0054

13. See Portland Police Bureau, The Bulletin, November 24, 1993, and April 27, 1995.


Send correspondence to Captain David Butzer, Family Services Division, Portland Police Bureau, Portland, OR 97204; Professor Lois Bronfman, c/o Family Services Division, Portland Police Bureau, Portland, OR 97204; Professor Brian Stipak, Public Administration Department, Portland State University, Portland, OR 97207.

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