A Sign of the Crimes: Examining Officers’ Identification of, and Arrest for, Stalking in Domestic Violence Complaints

Published date01 December 2020
Date01 December 2020
Subject MatterArticles
A Sign of the Crimes:
Examining Officers’
Identification of,
and Arrest for,
Stalking in Domestic
Violence Complaints
Patrick Q. Brady
, Bradford W. Reyns
, and
Rebecca Dreke
Despite stalking as a risk factor for intimate partner homicide, few studies have
explored officer decision making in domestic violence (DV) complaints that involve
stalking. This study employs the focal concerns perspective to identify the legal and
extra-legal factors associated with officers’ identification of, and arrest for, stalking in
DV complaints. Using a statewide sample of 230 DV complaints from Rhode Island,
findings indicated that nearly one in four suspects were arrested for stalking in DV
complaints (25.2%). Stalking acknowledgment was associated with the location of the
offense, prior police involvement, and the total number of offenses committed.
Officers were more likely to arrest suspects for stalking in DV complaints if the
victim was willing to cooperate. Support for the focal concerns perspective varied
according to the type of decision. Avenues for future research, as well as theoretical
and practical implications, are discussed.
Department of Criminology, University of West Georgia, Carrollton, GA, United States
Department of Criminal Justice, Weber State University, Ogden, UT, United States
Rebecca Dreke Consulting, LLC, Austin, TX, United States
Corresponding Author:
Patrick Q. Brady, Department of Criminology,University of West Georgia, 1601 Maple Street, Carrollton,
GA 30118, United States.
Email: pbrady@westga.edu
Police Quarterly
2020, Vol. 23(4) 500–526
!The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1098611120923155
stalking, intimate partner violence, focal concerns, law enforcement decision making,
stalking acknowledgment
Stalking is a crime in all 50 states that occurs when someone repeatedly engages
in behaviors directed at a specif‌ic person that would make a reasonable person
fear for the safety of themselves or others (National Center for Victims of
Crime, 2007). Stalking is a serious form of coercive control that is often asso-
ciated with severe intimate partner violence and femicide (Brady & Hayes, 2018;
J. C. Campbell et al., 2003; McFarlane et al., 2002; Spencer & Stith, 2018). In
fact, a recent meta-analysis of 17 intimate partner homicide studies found that
stalking produced a threefold increase in the risk of homicide among female
victims by male partners (Spencer & Stith, 2018). Despite the millions of stalking
victims who contact the police each year (Baum et al., 2009), suspects are rarely
arrested nor prosecuted for stalking (Brady & Nobles, 2017; Jordan et al., 2003;
Klein et al., 2009; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2002; Woodroof, 2010). Def‌initive
explanations for attrition rates in stalking cases, however, are not fully
Given the seriousness of intimate partner stalking (Brady & Hayes, 2018;
McFarlane et al., 2002; Spencer & Stith, 2018), efforts to improve off‌icer
responses to stalking and domestic violence (DV) complaints is a necessary
form of homicide prevention. While there is a voluminous body of literature
on off‌icer decision making (Brown, 2005; Novak et al., 2002; O’Neal & Spohn,
2017; D. A. Smith & Visher, 1981; Visher, 1983), few studies have addressed
how off‌icers make decisions in stalking cases. As a result, the f‌irst logical step to
improving responses involves identifying the victim, suspect, and situational
characteristics inf‌luencing off‌icers’ identif‌ication of stalking behaviors in domes-
tic disputes, as well as the factors associated with arrest decisions for stalking.
Using statewide police incident data from Rhode Island (RI), this research
addresses three issues related to off‌icers’ identif‌ication of, and their decision
to arrest for, stalking.
First, law enforcement perceptions of stalking often run counter to the
nature and dangerousness of the crime, particularly when stalking
behaviors occur within the context of DV. National estimates have suggested
that stalking is most commonly perpetrated by an intimate partner (Baum et al.,
2009; S. G. Smith et al., 2018), while former intimate partners have been shown
to be the most dangerous and malignant perpetrator (Logan & Walker, 2009b;
McFarlane et al., 2002; Rosenfeld, 2004). Yet, research has shown that off‌icers
are more likely to identify unwanted pursuit behaviors as “stalking” or perceive
the crime to be worthy of legal interventions when perpetrated by an
Brady et al. 501

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