“What’s happening in High Point is the most exciting and effective approach in responding to domestic violence I’ve ever seen.” – Susan Herman, former director for the National Center for Victims of Crime, Washington, D.C.
There are over 3,000 programs in the United States serving the needs of domestic violence victims and their children, including millions of women. For every woman in a physically abusive relationship, there is a perpetrator, an offender. Millions of offenders. These are men from every socio-economic background who are seldom held accountable for their actions.
One city wanted to make a difference by focusing on the root of the problem. In High Point, N.C., domestic violence had reached record-breaking highs in calls for service in 2008. One in every three murders in the city was domestic-related; it was the unmistakable leading cause of homicide. Frightened victims were often reluctant to assist with police investigations. To law enforcement, the problem seemed like an invisible issue, best handled by victim’s advocates who could assist with shelters and restraining orders.
But after doing some research, police detectives made a surprising discovery. They realized that the majority of domestic offenders were also committing violent crimes on the street. Many of them were already on the police radar. The detectives thought to themselves: Why keep focusing on the victims? Why not focus on the offenders?
That was the beginning of a bold policing initiative in High Point, never tested before. Officers began tracking down offenders one by one, to deliver a stern warning: “We know who you are. If you beat your girlfriend again, we’ll lock you up for a long time. And by the way, she didn’t ask us to do this.”
The initiative rolled out between 2009 and 2012. Eventually, the department started organizing “call-ins”—public gatherings in which offenders were forced to face the community. The results have been nothing short of remarkable. Of the 1,142 offenders who received a deterrence message since the rollout, only 14 percent of them have reoffended. Last year, domestic calls for service in High Point dropped by 30 percent. Injuries to women have dropped dramatically, and domestic homicides have nearly stopped. The initiative is now being piloted in four cities around the country, with many more interested.
“What’s happening in High Point is the most exciting and effective approach in responding to domestic violence I’ve ever seen,” said Susan Herman, deputy commissioner for collaborative policing with the New York Police Department.
Segment 1: “We Have a Problem.”
Featured character: Marty Sumner, High Point chief of police
Seven years ago, High Point, a mid-sized city best known for its furniture factories, was reeling from domestic violence. It had become the leading call for police service, with more than 5,000 disturbances reported annually. No strategy seemed to work. The top brass was flummoxed.
Segment 2: “The Offender-Focused Strategy”
Featured character: David Kennedy, director, Center for Crime Prevention and Control, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Sumner’s desire to tackle domestic violence was inspired by previous collaboration with New York criminologist David Kennedy, who was nationally known for engineering Operation Ceasefire, an anti-gang program in Boston that led to a 63 percent reduction in youth homicides. That initiative relied on the “focused-deterrence” method, which is based on two presuppositions…
Segment 3: “They Need to Know They’re Being Watched”
Featured character: Rev. Jim Summey, Executive Director, High Point Community Against Violence
Not long after Kennedy’s overtures were denied in High Point, the police chief commissioned an internal study on domestic violence. What he found was shocking: a large number of DV offenders were chronic offenders, skating passed charges repeatedly. Something needed to be done, he decided, and focused-deterrence was their best shot.
Segment 4: “We Don’t Need Her Help”
Featured character: Major Ken Shultz, High Point Police Department
In early 2012, a dozen former domestic violence offenders sauntered into High Point City Hall for the first call-in under the new initiative. None of the men seemed happy to be there. Prior to the call-in, their victims had been alerted and offered safety planning. Alleviating the officers’ previous concern, each victim responded favorably to the strategy.
Segment 5: “Dramatic Results”
Featured character: High Point Detective Jerry Thompson
Each morning, High Point Detective Jerry Thompson scours the county jail’s intake list for new domestic charges, and flags them in the database accessed by patrol officers. Most days he travels to the jail to meet with new “C-Listers” – individuals arrested on their first DV offense. Rather than the stern approach used with B-listers, Thompson deploys a softer warning.
Drop in Domestic Calls
Chief of Police
Chief Marty Sumner is Chief of the High Point Police Department where he has served for over 30 years. He has been instrumental in the department’s shift to focused deterrence efforts over the past 18 years.
Major Kenneth Shultz, serves as Chief of Staff at the High Point Police Department where he has worked for over 25 years. He currently oversees the Department’s Major Crime Deterrence and Prevention Bureau.
Captain Tim Ellenberger, Commander of the Major Crimes Section of the High Point Police Department, has been a High Point police officer for 22 years.
Detective Jerry Thompson, Detective in the Major Crimes, DV Section of the High Point Police Department.
Senior Program Specialist
John Weil currently serves as the Senior Program Specialist and co-founder of the North Carolina Network for Safe Communities (NCNSC) at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Dr. David Kennedy
Criminologist and Director
David Kennedy is a leading criminologist and Director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
Victim Services Division Director
Shay Harger is the Victim Services Division Director at Family Service of the Piedmont in Guilford County, NC.
Senior Research Scientist
Dr. Stacy Sechrist is a Senior Research Scientist and co-founder of the North Carolina Network for Safe Communities (NCNSC) at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Reverand Jim Summey
Jim Summey is Executive Director of High Point Community Against Violence.