Two Studies Examine Weapons and Arrests in Domestic Violence Cases

A woman holding a knife behind her back confronts a man with a liquor bottle in his hand.

Weapons were involved in 40 percent of domestic violence cases in Houston, and researchers discovered distinct patterns on when and where each type of weapon was used, according to a recent study at Sam Houston State University.

Dr Joongyeup Lee
Dr. Joongyeup Lee
The study, “Profiling weapon use in domestic violence: Multilevel analysis of situational and neighborhood factors,” was based on 9,450 detailed reports of domestic violence cases that occurred in 2005 throughout Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city. While the majority of cases – 60 percent -- reported the use of bodily force, weapons were involved in two out of every five cases. Knives were used in 7 percent of these cases, and guns were present in nearly 4 percent of cases, but the majority of weapons – 26 percent – were classified only as “other” in the police report.

The study, authored by Dr. Joongyeup Lee of Pennsylvania State University and Drs. Yan Zhang and Larry Hoover at SHSU, was published in Victims & Offenders.

“The underlying criminological basis is rational choice theory,” said Dr. Lee. “Crimes occur when motivation meets with an optimal situation. Our attempt is to profile this situation in terms of time, day, location, and the demographic relationship between the suspect and the complainant.”

For example, knives were more likely to be used in a residence and late at night. Men who confront women generally use bodily force, but men who confront men or women who confront men will more likely use a weapon.

“Police regularly respond to domestic violence calls, which can include anything from a verbal argument to a serious assault with weapons,” said Dr. Lee. “Ideally, if we can figure out the pattern of weapon use, police will have an educated guess on what may be involved as they respond to the scene in such a short notice and with limited information.”

Police leads away a man in handcuffs.In a second study by Drs. Lee, Zhang and Hoover, “Police response to domestic violence: multilevel factors of arrest decision,” researchers found that police decision making includes legal and other factors. Arrests in domestic violence case were most likely to occur in areas with heavy concentrations of immigrants and economically disadvantaged. In addition, domestic violence arrests were most likely to occur late at night, on weekends or at a residence.

“It may sound counterintuitive that extra-legal factors, such as time, location, or neighborhood, matters to whether police make arrests,” Dr. Lee said. “Some people believe purely legal factors should be the determinants and criticize police for being discretionary.”

Man's fist in handcuffsDr. Hoover noted "not surprisingly arrests occur more frequently in neighborhoods with a history of high crime and violence."

The study analyzed similar reports of domestic violence from the Houston Police Department in 2005. The study was published in Policing: an International Journal of Police Strategies and Management.

Member of The Texas State University System