Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Deterrent Effect of Arrest in Incidents of Domestic Violence: A Bayesian Analysis of Four Field Experiments

The authors of this study, Berk, Campbell, Klap and Western (1992), looked at a number of different studies conducted following a study of the Minneapolis Police Department.  The initial study looked at police responses to misdemeanors for domestic assault.  There were three response options available to the police officers, and this measures were supposed to be given out randomly.  These options were (1) to arrest the suspect, (2) remove the suspect from the premises for 24 hours, and (3) to attempt to restore order at that moment.  Through a series of initial and follow-up interviews, it was determined that arrest of the suspect was the most effective way to reduce further violence.  Based on these result, police departments were encouraged to arrest suspects as soon as possible in domestic assault cases.  In addition, that National Institute of Justice funded six replications of the Minneapolis experiment to take place across the United States.

The authors took results from the initial Minneapolis study as well as the following six studies, applied Bayesian Analysis, and attempted to determine if there was an applicable theory; labeling theory or social control theory.  The authors took a combination of a Bayesian Analysis and meta-analysis to attempt to replicate the original study as well as the results that came with that. The subsequent studies were used as different levels of the Bayesian Analysis.

The findings of the this analysis determined that there was no generalizable approach to effectively reducing further violence in domestic assault incidents.  Berk, et. al. determined that there were "good" and "bad" risks, and the different positions and relations individuals held in society determined the effectiveness of arrests.  Individuals who did not feel as constrained by their social standing, or not constrained by social controls are seen to be "bad' risks -- they are likely to repeatedly offend, since they are not as deterred.

This study concluded that social control elements, such as familial ties, relationships, and public perception, are only indicators, not actual measures of attachment.  Therefore, there is no generalizable finding that is applicable to offenders across the United States, or even to offenders in the same region, just over time.  Therefore, there is no statement overall that is applicable to offenders or one that applies specifically to site's past, present, and future offenders.

The application of the Bayesian Analysis was interesting since it not only looked at a statisical element, but it also included a meta-analysis to attempt to understand a method that is most effective at curbing domestic violence.

The study did note that the detailed steps for the Bayesian Analysis were located in another document, which made it slightly difficult to understand the larger picture, including the specific elements that went into the analysis.  Overall findings from the analysis are presented, and analyzed in a manner that is coherent to individuals outside of the field.  That being said, it would have been beneficial to include a more detailed element in this study depicting the numerical application of Bayesian analysis rather than the written element.

Berk, R., Campbell, A., Klap, R., & Western, B. (1992). The deterrent effect of arrests in incidents of domestic violence: A Bayesian Analysis of four field experiments. American Sociological Review, 57(5), 698-708. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/2095923


  1. I agree with your assessment that the study should have included what they did for the Bayesian analysis. The fact that they combined theories to analyze responses to domestic assaults is a good practice to have to make sure your analysis is solid. Even though they didn't find any significant results, it is still important to report the study- if nothing else it serves as a flag to others not to pursue this study unless they are trying to improve it/retry it.

  2. Olivia, it was interesting that the authors decided to replicate the original study and the final product of the study. However, I wish they had addressed the process of selecting the interviewees and the process of selecting the sample. This is a process that has the potential introduce a lot of biases to the experiment. It would have helped understand the full potential and the depth of the experiment had the authors explained the methodology a bit more.