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2 Historical development of the pro-arrest policy in New Zealand


Based on that research we felt justified in risking a major intervention that would affect the behaviour of those most directly involved in the dispute. As a result the arrest policy (where criminal offences could be established) became the major intervention plank of this. (Ford 1986:35)

2.1 Introduction

This chapter explores the history of the New Zealand Police response to family violence and in particular the development of the pro-arrest policy in New Zealand. The literature on police responses to family violence is generally in agreement over the historical development of approaches and the introduction of mandatory or pro-arrest policies. Three distinct chronological phases in the police approach to family violence have been identified in New Zealand and overseas (Buzawa & Buzawa 2003; Ford 1986:10):

a) The Traditional Approach.

b) The Crisis Intervention Approach.

c) The Arrest Method.

2.2 Police approaches prior to pro-arrest

2.2.1 The Traditional Approach

The 'Traditional Approach' is described as 'non-involvement' or 'reluctant intervention' by police, and was the prevalent approach prior to 1970 in the majority of police departments both here and overseas (Buzawa & Buzawa 2003; Ford 1986). Many authors trace the origins of non-intervention to views about marriage and the family which are rooted in cultural and religious traditions.[4]

These traditions perpetuated ideas about family relationships; significantly the subordinate position of the wife to her husband and the private nature of the family (O'Donnell & Craney 1982, Pilott & Good 1991). Feminist and some non-feminist authors such as violence researchers described the disadvantages women faced within traditional marriages and the difficulties many women experienced in trying to get help to stop family violence. A perception of separation between public and private spheres was further supported by economic structures. Hence a domestic incident was not regarded as the responsibility of the state; rather it was a private matter to be resolved between a husband and wife.

The imposition of European cultural ideals and a Westminster-based criminal justice system has been criticised by indigenous colonised peoples. The report on Māori Family Violence in Aotearoa (Balzer et al. 1997) points out that the similarities in the 'colonial histories of Australia, America and Aotearoa could well explain the commonalities around problems being faced by indigenous people and the forms of resolutions or solutions which have been suggested' (Balzer et al. 1997:58). The report outlines a substantial change in gender relations and household structure within Māori society that promoted the husband to head of household and served to undervalue women's contribution and status within the family. The authors propose that the subordination of women promoted by early European colonialism coupled with assimilation policies that broke down traditional practices contributed towards family violence (Balzer et al. 1997). The imposition of a European criminal justice system that took redress and resolution away from the whānau and hapū has also been criticised.

In the wake of colonisation, Māori structures and mechanisms of social control have been damaged, interfering with the strength and ability of whānau, hapū and iwi to protect women. Gender relations and the status of Māori women have been negatively affected. (Crichton-Hill 2004:74)

2.2.2 The Crisis Intervention Approach

The second phase adopted by police departments is the 'Crisis Intervention Approach', which had an emphasis on counselling and mediation for the parties involved. This approach was also adopted in New Zealand and can be seen as a continuation of the 'private' nature of the family. Police were to act as mediators in a crisis situation and promote reconciliation, resorting to arresting the aggressor as a last resort (Buzawa & Buzawa 2003; Ford 1986; Scutt 1982; Sherman 1992b). It is interesting to note the reasons given by the Training Directorate of the New Zealand Police advising police to avoid making arrests if possible:

a) The likelihood that such action will contribute to family stress rather than relieve it.

b) The fact that if the aggressor was arrested he may, on release, become even more violent.

c) Arresting the aggressor may involve financial hardship for the family.

d) Doubts by the police that the prosecution will proceed as complainants may want to withdraw charges.

e) The police being "used" by the spouse as a means to remove the offender from the home. (Ford 1986:12)

The crisis intervention approach has been criticised for not treating domestic violence as a crime and only encouraging arrest to be used as a last resort. The Training Directorate identified problems with the crisis intervention approach, such as police officers' limited knowledge of what assistance was available for victims; the limited time available for police when attending these incidents; age differences where young police officers may not be taken seriously by older people involved in disputes; and mediation advice being of little use with drunk people (Ford 1986).

Ford (1986:13) noted that many young officers in New Zealand did not get any real training in how to deal with domestic disputes until they were working out in the field under the tuition of a more experienced officer 'who may, or may not, set a good role model'. While the crisis intervention model was introduced here and promoted through police training, Ford (1986:13) states that 'most New Zealand Police officers still saw the traditional non-involvement role as being their method of handling domestic disputes'.

2.3 The arrest policy

The third and current phase of police response has been called the 'Arrest Policy' and began in the late 1970s (Ford 1986; Buzawa & Buzawa 2003). This reflects the development of pro-arrest and mandatory arrest policies in police responses and a move away from the previous two approaches by criminalising domestic violence and limiting police discretion.

Internationally and in New Zealand the impetus for changing responses to domestic violence came from two general directions, the feminist movement and the criminal justice system, particularly from within the police.

2.3.1 Feminist influences

Internationally members of the feminist movement were concerned that police discretion on whether to arrest a male offender was compromised by systemic and personal bias in favour of the assailant. At the very least police inaction or leniency could be interpreted as condoning the violent behaviour (Felson, Ackerman & Gallagher 2005; Ford 1986). At worst, misogynist attitudes of some police left women victims feeling doubly violated. Reasons for the promotion of the pro-arrest policy included lessening of discriminatory responses by police by limiting their discretion, and encouraging the criminal justice system as a whole to treat domestic violence more seriously (Buzawa & Buzawa 2003).

Furthermore, theories about the dynamics of domestic violence provided justifications for promoting mandatory or pro-arrest policies. Particularly influential was Lenore Walker's study[5] on the psychological impact of battering on women victims, which she called 'Battered Woman Syndrome'. The central tenet of this syndrome is 'learned helplessness', which is a theory that 'predicts that the ability to perceive your effectiveness in being able to control what happens to you can be damaged by some aversive experiences that occur with trauma' (Walker 2000:10).

Those who have developed learned helplessness have a reduced ability to predict that their actions will produce a result that can protect them from adversity. As the learned helplessness is developing, the person (a woman in the case of battered women) chooses responses to the perceived danger that are most likely to work to reduce the pain from trauma…It is important to recognize that their perceptions of danger are accurate; however, the more pessimistic they are, the less likely they will choose an effective response, should such a response be available (Walker 2000:10-11).

Thus state intervention in the form of mandatory or pro-arrest policies was promoted as a way of helping and protecting battered women who were psychologically traumatised. Walker's learned helplessness theory does not mean that victims are passive and helpless; rather the strategies they choose to respond to their abuse narrow to those that have the highest predictability of a successful outcome (Law Commission 2000). This may involve submitting to the batterer so that the violence will be minimised or stop.

2.3.2 Criminal Justice system influences

Some police authorities also began to question the effectiveness of the mediation approach and instigated more legal sanctions to deal with family violence. This process has been dubbed the 'criminalisation' of domestic violence. Jeffery Fagan (1996) discusses the criminalisation process and states that it was assumed that the promotion of more legal interventions, including pro-arrest and other mandatory policies, would act as a deterrent. Legal sanctions would therefore reduce domestic violence. This process was also influenced by external pressures, such as women's advocacy groups, and in the United States the 1976 New York class action litigation against criminal justice agencies for failing to assist victims and arrest batterers (Scutt 1982).

Within the framework of legal sanctions, Fagan identifies the convergence of several approaches to family violence:

These interventions to control violence against adult intimate partners reflect several different policy goals and separate but parallel tracks: criminal punishment and deterrence of batterers, batterer treatment, and protective interventions designed to ensure victims' safety and empowerment (Fagan 1996:8).

2.4 New Zealand influences for change

The New Zealand development of the pro-arrest policy was primarily influenced by the following bodies and reports:

  • National Collective of Independent Women's Refuges (NCIWR);
  • the Domestic Dispute Research Project 1986 conducted by Sergeant Greg Ford;
  • the interagency committee, Family Violence Prevention Coordinating Committee (FVPCC) chaired and serviced by the then Department of Social Welfare 1986-1992;
  • the Hamilton Abuse Intervention Pilot Project (HAIPP) 1991-1994; and
  • the Report of the Ministerial Committee of Inquiry into Violence[6] March 1987 (Taylor, 1997:2).

2.4.1 Pro-arrest Policy development[7]

This section outlines major influences on the policy development of the pro-arrest policy in New Zealand.

Mapping the context - the NCIWR 1983 Synergy Report

To strengthen the case for government funding, the National Collective of Independent Women's Refuges (NCIWR) commissioned research on the status of family violence in New Zealand and service provision provided by refuges and other services. This resulted in A Socio-Economic Assessment of NZ Women's Refuges by Synergy Applied Research (1983). The Synergy Report provided an important contribution to knowledge about family violence at that time and provided a basis for developing future initiatives and making budget bids to government.

The 1985 Family Violence Conference

In 1985 a family violence conference was held at the Royal New Zealand Police College, which was jointly organised by Police and NCIWR. This conference aimed to address ways of coordinating an approach to domestic violence.

At that conference Greg Ford (a police officer) presented a paper outlining his study trip to the United States and an examination of their recently introduced pro-arrest policy. The evidence was pointing towards a change of 'philosophy and approach'.

There was reportedly much debate over the merits of the pro-arrest policy at the conference. A resolution was passed for a national level coordinating committee, resulting in the establishment of the Family Violence Prevention Coordinating Committee (FVPCC) in mid-1985. One of the reasons for the establishment of the FVPCC was so that the pro-arrest response could be looked at in more depth.

Family Violence Prevention Coordinating Committee

The FVPCC was a high level committee comprising government agencies and community organisations and was convened and operated from the then Department of Social Welfare.[8]

FVPCC terms of reference were:

  • To facilitate coordination and liaison between the various agencies and departments involved with aspects of family violence;
  • To coordinate and oversee the development of an interagency approach to family violence;
  • To ensure that programmes, materials and methods used in such activities include culturally appropriate education, prevention, and treatment options in order to recognise and reflect the multicultural nature of New Zealand.

The FVPCC was disestablished in 1992 and replaced by the Family Violence Advisory Committee and the Family Violence Unit.

2.4.2 The influence of research findings

This section outlines the international and national research findings that had significant influence on the development of the pro-arrest policy in New Zealand.

The Minneapolis Study

During 1981 and 1982 Laurence Sherman and Richard Berk (1984) carried out the most influential research on pro-arrest policies, in the Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment. This study was commissioned by the United States Police Foundation and the Minneapolis Police Department. The study was premised on the theory that legal sanctions would deter further violence.[9] On the basis of the findings of this research, which reported that mandatory arrest had a deterrent effect on future violence, many police departments throughout the United States implemented a pro-arrest policy. The Minneapolis experiment and the subsequent replication studies will be discussed in Chapter Five.

The Minneapolis experiment also influenced police in New Zealand, as Greg Ford (1986:35) wrote:

[b]ased on that research we felt justified in risking a major intervention that would affect the behaviour of those most directly involved in the dispute. As a result the arrest policy (where criminal offences could be established) became the major intervention plank of this.

Ford's New Zealand Research

Ford's research, Research Project on Domestic Disputes (1986), was conducted in the Hamilton district to 'see whether the police should change their policies in regard to the way in which they perceive and handle complaints known as domestic disputes' (Ford 1986:vii). Ford's research was undertaken to see if the theory[10] of change would work in practice, and in particular, benefit victims.

During March/April 1986, front line police officers were instructed to implement four changes in their response to domestic violence call outs. These changes were then evaluated during August/September 1986.

The changes included:

  • All domestic dispute complaints were officially recorded.
  • Re-conceptualising the coding of domestic disputes according to the applicable offences rather than coding domestic disputes under a minor 'incident code'.
  • Attempts were made to put complainants in touch with social service agencies so they could be provided with ongoing support.
  • More arrests were made in cases where a prima facie offence was established without the need for an official complaint from the victim.

The short-term evaluation that Ford conducted found that both victims and police favoured the pro-arrest policy. Victim accounts showed that there was less violence in the follow-up period. However, this has to be treated with caution, as the maximum period was only six months after police intervention.

The Roper Report

The Roper Report (March 1987) was also influential in changing attitudes towards domestic violence and endorsed Ford's recommendations (Roper Report 1987:103).

1. That the Police adopt the methods applied and evaluated by Sergeant G. W. Ford, M.Soc.Sci. in Hamilton and his recommendations that in cases of domestic violence,

(a) Police called to a domestic dispute arrest the offender, whether or not a complaint has been made by the victim, where there is clear evidence of an offence.

(b) Referral to treatment agencies be automatically initiated in all such cases.

Particular impetus came from the finding that possibly as much as 80% of all violence occurred in the home, which led the authors of the Roper Report to conclude 'family violence is the cradle for the perpetuation of violence and crime in the community' (cited in Taylor 1997:2). The Roper Report supported an approach towards family violence that addressed this complex issue on different levels and through different agencies. The legal sanctioning of the offender, and victim protection were both to be undertaken. Furthermore the approach towards the offender was twofold: treatment and punishment.

Overseas studies have shown for example, that neither treatment alone nor punishment alone, is very effective in reducing family violence. A combination is. The offender needs to know that his apprehension will be sure and swift. Victims have to be similarly assured. Under the current legislation, the practices of the Police, the ignorance of the public, and the unwillingness of helpers to invade the sanctity of the family, these results are by no means certain. Our recommendations, therefore, attempt to address the issue by urging that existing legislation is utilised to its fullest extent and that new legislation, public education and practices are introduced to make families safer (Roper Report 1987:101).

2.5 Establishment of the pro-arrest policy in New Zealand

The influences described above combined with lobbying by the FVPCC for the pro-arrest policy resulted in it first being introduced in 1987 under the Domestic Dispute Policy (Commissioner's Circular 1987/11). The policy instructed that an offender be arrested where there was sufficient evidence and that the victim did not have to make an official complaint. However it was found that the policy was not being evenly implemented by police (Smith 1991).

2.5.1 Duluth to Hamilton

The FVPCC realised that a change in arrest policy alone would not dramatically reduce reoffending. Overseas experience had shown that until 'formal, compulsory education programmes were introduced and the system of dealing with offenders is structured to ensure that the community response is always consistent, a significant reduction in the reoffending rate does not occur'. (Smith 1991:51).

The FVPCC had been investigating overseas models of reducing family violence and in 1991 established a pilot intervention project, the Hamilton Abuse Intervention Pilot Project[11] (HAIPP) modelled on the Duluth Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP). The DAIP approach (established in 1981) was predominantly focused on battered women (Dominick 1995) and viewed the mechanisms of family violence through the 'Power and Control' model (Robertson 1999). In this model different forms of violence are used to control people's behaviour. The aim of intervention is to stop the violence and this is achieved through protecting, supporting and informing victims and changing the offender's behaviour through accountability and rehabilitation.[12]

DAIP was a coordinated intervention programme that used a monitoring group to coordinate various community and government agencies. FVPCC adapted the DAIP model to 'the different legal, socio-economic context and cultural structures of New Zealand' (Smith 1991:54). A key aspect of the model was that the monitoring group would ensure that all offenders and victims were treated the same (Smith 1991:54). It was therefore hoped that the HAIPP model would facilitate a more even implementation of the pro-arrest policy in New Zealand.

The key elements of the integrated approach were:

  • an active police policy of arresting abusers;
  • the sentencing of convicted abusers to a structured education programme;
  • an advocacy and support programme for victims of abuse;
  • close cooperation between community groups and statutory agencies;
  • monitoring of agency performance and compliance with project policies.[13]

(Dominick 1995:vii)[13]

The pro-arrest policy in this model is recognised as only part of a more comprehensive response. Thus in the evaluations of HAIPP it was found that:

The arrest and removal of the assailant provided most victims with short-term relief and safety from violence. However other interventions were clearly needed in conjunction with the arrest to produce changes and provide safety for victims over time (Dominick 1995:xv).

The evaluations of HAIPP did not show any reduction in offending in the short-term; however limitations in the available data mean that this cannot be ruled out (Dominick 1995:xxxiv).

Influenced by HAIPP the 1987 policy was 're-stated and re-enforced' in 1992 (Police Commissioner Policy Circular 1992/07). In 1993 the NZ Police Family Violence Policy replaced the Domestic Dispute Policy and expanded the definition of domestic relationships to include other family and close relationships (Police Commissioner Policy Circular 1993/19). This was updated in 1996 to become the 1996 Family Violence Policy (Police Commissioner Policy Circular 1996/2) which is discussed in the following chapter.


4 For discussions on the New Zealand context see Asiasiga & Gray 1998; Balzer et al. 1997; Carbonatto 1997; Glover 1993; Pilott & Good 1991; Robertson 1999. For discussions on the South Pacific context see for example Jolly 1998; Langmore 1989; Lukere 1997; Toren 1994.

5 The Battered Women Research Center at Colorado Women's College in Denver, Colorado undertook a study of 435 battered women in the Rocky Mountain region from July 1978 to June 1981.

6 The Report of the Ministerial Committee of Inquiry into Violence will henceforth be referred to as the 'Roper Report', as the late Sir Clinton Roper, a High Court Judge, headed the Ministerial Committee.

7 I would like to thank Raewyn Good, who was FVPCC Executive Officer during that time, for informing me about much of the policy development in this section.

8 Membership included the Chief Executives of Social Welfare, Education, Health, Manatu Maori, Women's Affairs, Justice, Youth Affairs, Pacific Island Affairs; Commissioner of Police; General Manager ACC; NCIWR; Rape Crisis and Related Groups of Aotearoa; Principal Family Court Judge; Te Kakano o te Whanau; National Men for Non-Violence Network; Runanga Tane; Pacific Women's Project. The Maori Women's Welfare League attended as an observer/advisory capacity.

9 Fagan (1996:35) observes that the Minneapolis experiment 'was noteworthy not because it was an evaluation of arrest policy for domestic violence. In fact, it was a test of deterrence theory, and domestic violence was not its primary concern'.

10 The theory that underlies Ford's (1986:ix) study developed out of psychology and involves behavioural interventions that were perceived to 'assist all people with the same types of problems rather than just concentrating on the individual unit. The approach believes that solutions to problems will only come about by recognising the wider context and being able to provide an all round service which co-ordinates and uses all the participants.' Therefore it is not just up to police to control, but also other organisations and individuals who are involved.

11 HAIPP is now an established programme and is currently referred to as the Hamilton Abuse Intervention Project (HAIP).

12 See Holder (2001) for a discussion on DAIP's development of their approach.

13 See Clare Dominick's report Overview of the Hamilton Abuse Intervention Pilot Project (HAIPP) Evaluation, 1995, for an overview of evaluation reports commissioned by central government agencies on HAIPP.