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The Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment

Publication Date

April 1984


Lawrence W. Sherman

Richard A. Berk


Under a grant from the National Institute of Justice, the Minneapolis Police Department and the National Policing Institute conducted an experiment from early 1981 to mid-1982 testing police responses to domestic violence. The purpose of the experiment was to address an intense debate about how police should respond to misdemeanor cases of domestic violence. At least three viewpoints can be identified in this debate: the traditional police approach of doing as little as possible; the clinical psychologists’ recommendations that police actively mediate or arbitrate disputes underlying the violence; or the approach recommended by many women’s groups and the Police Executive Research Forum of treating the violence as a criminal offense subject to arrest. If the purpose of police responses to domestic violence calls is to reduce the likelihood of that violence recurring, the question is which of these approaches is more effective than the others? In order to find which police approach was most effective in deterring future domestic violence, the National Policing Institute and the Minneapolis Police Department agreed to conduct a classic experiment. It found that arrest was the most effective of three standard methods police use to reduce domestic violence. The other police methods, attempting to counsel both parties or sending assailants away from home for several hours, were found to be considerably less effective in deterring future violence in the cases examined. These were not life-threatening cases, but rather the minor assaults which make up the bulk of police calls to domestic violence.

Research Design

Randomized controlled trial (RCT)

Research Methods

Field-based experiment

Recommended Citation

Sherman, L. & Berk, R. (1984). The Minneapolis domestic violence experiment. Washington, DC: National Policing Institute. https://www.policinginstitute.org/publication/the-minneapolis-domestic-violence-experiment/