NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 8, 2007

"Mandatory arrest" laws -- laws allowing officers to make an arrest every time someone reports abuse -- may have an unintended, deadly side effect.  The number of murders committed by intimate partners is now significantly higher in states with mandatory arrest laws than it is in other states, says Radha Iyengar, a fellow in health policy research at Harvard University.

Unfortunately, in the two decades since the laws were enacted, the realization by victims that an arrest will be made for every call seems to have led them to contact the police less, says Iyengar:

  • In some cases, victims may favor an arrest, but fear that their abusers will be quickly released.
  • Many victims may avoid calling the police for fear that they will also be arrested for physically defending themselves.
  • Overall, in states with mandatory arrest laws, homicides are about 50 percent higher today than they are in states without the laws.

However, that the situation is different in incidents in which abuse is suffered by people who are not intimate partners -- children, for example.  In fact, research shows that in states with mandatory arrest laws there are fewer murders of non-intimate-partner family members than there are in states without the laws.

The mandatory arrest laws were intended to impose a cost on abusers.  But because of psychological, emotional and financial ties that often keep victims loyal to their abusers, the cost of arrest is easily transferred from abusers to victims, says Iyengar.  Victims want protection, but they do not always want to see their partners put behind bars.

Source: Radha Iyengar, "The Protection Battered Spouses Don't Need," New York Times, August 7, 2007.

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