Ortner Center on Violence & Abuse in Relationships

First Person: Sitting in on a Domestic Violence Law Enforcement Committee Meeting

Sara Landers

Ortner Center Student Fellow

August 2016

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As a social work student and Ortner Center researcher, I have learned that addressing major social problems like domestic violence requires synergy across disciplines and the collaboration of stakeholders with different expertise, experience, and roles. Philadelphia is committed to such collaboration through the Domestic Violence Law Enforcement Committee (DVLEC). Hosted by the District Attorney’s office, DVLEC is a monthly gathering of police officers, prosecutors, advocates, social service providers, and researchers from Ortner, and all are devoted to addressing domestic violence in Philadelphia. I was grateful for the opportunity to attend a DVLEC meeting this summer and witness this collaboration in action.


At this meeting, Ortner Center Director Dr. Susan Sorenson and Dr. Richard Berk – statistics and criminology professor at Penn, and member of the Center – presented findings from their research project “Forecasting Future Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) Incidents in Philadelphia.” The Philadelphia Police Department's domestic violence reports allowed for a study to forecast the likelihood of reoffending. The goal was to help police anticipate when particular offenders posed a significant risk for future IPV. 


The analysis of 35,413 IPV incident reports from 2013 suggested several valuable insights. First, of the reported IPV incidents, most offenders (72%) did not repeat in that calendar year. For the 28% that repeated (about 23,000 unique offenders that year), a machine learning analysis was done to determine which individuals were likely to be repeat offenders. That analysis found that, among other things, there is a lower risk of another incident of intimate partner violence if the offender is present when officers respond and if the offender is cooperative. The researchers also recommended improving domestic violence reports and training officers in their use.


Throughout the meeting, I was inspired to see committee members actively engaged with one another, nodding in agreement when the research findings related to their experience and chiming in to add a new dimension to the conversation. Having worked as a case manager for women experiencing homelessness (many of whom were fleeing abusive partners) and now as a research assistant studying domestic violence perpetration and prevention, I know how disparate these two roles – service provider and researcher – can feel. I’ve sometimes wondered if meaningful change can be made at the macro level when being “on the ground” can feel far removed from research and policymaking. In this room was my answer:  Change happens through enabling police officers, advocates, prosecutors, and researchers to interact, informing and supporting each other’s work. I left the meeting heartened that all of these stakeholders have a seat at the table affecting Philadelphia’s domestic violence policies and procedures.