How one city made its domestic violence rate plummet

About a decade ago, the city of High Point found itself struggling with an alarmingly high rate of domestic violence—the worst in the state of North Carolina—and killing of intimate partners making up a third of local homicides. Grappling with the problem, the police department set out to try one strategy that had been lauded for its remarkable success curbing youth gun violence in Boston. As Governing.com explains here, that “focused deterrence” approach was identified as a promising solution to deploy in High Point for good reason:

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Credit: ThinkProgress

At the core of High Point’s approach is an intervention known as focused deterrence, a crime reduction strategy developed in Boston in the early 1990s as a way to stop gun violence among gangs. Under the strategy, officers would target a specific criminal behavior committed by a small number of chronic offenders, such as gang members; offer them various forms of assistance, such as help earning their GED; and threaten them with sanctions and punishment if the behavior did not stop. In the late 1990s, High Point became one of the first jurisdictions to replicate Boston’s approach. As a result, the city’s violent crime rate fell by nearly half in a year’s time. In 2002, High Point tried focused deterrence on open-air drug markets with notable successes. Then the city decided to use the approach to try to curtail domestic violence.

The results so far seem to be paying off, according to the reporting—

High Point had been experiencing three to five intimate partner homicides a year. Since the intervention began five years ago, it has had only two (one involved someone new to the city and the other a couple passing through town). Its re-arrest rates for domestic violence have fallen to the low- to mid-teens, far below the 20 to 34 percent experienced by other police departments.

Despite the complex challenges of effectively designing and implementing the program, High Point law enforcement officials believe its startling success can and should be replicated elsewhere. For more information, see “How High Point, N.C., Solved Its Domestic Violence Problem,” Governing.com (2016) and Focused Deterrence Strategies, National Institute of Justice.