Controversy rages in America over the seemingly ceaseless killing and assault of unarmed individuals by police officers nationwide. An ongoing investigation by The Guardian shows that, as of today, 861 unarmed people have been killed so far this year by the police and that police agencies are killing people at twice the rate calculated by the U.S. government.
In the wake of these incidents, the ACLU has even created an app to track and record the police. The app is described as being, “an easy way to record and report interactions with law enforcement. All footage and reports submitted through this app will be sent immediately to your local ACLU affiliate.” The main catch is that video and survey are sent to the ACLU immediately, making it impossible for police officers to destroy or tamper with evidence by seizing the phone.
There is a national debate raging about the efficacy of police, in general. It seems that everyone is weighing in on the controversy. However, there is one area in which little is being discussed: the prevalence of domestic violence within the law enforcement community.
OFFICER INVOLVED DOMESTIC VIOLENCE (OIDV):
In the wake of the release of a video of NFL running back Ray Rice knocking his wife unconscious in an elevator, the national debate turned – briefly – to issues surrounding domestic abuse. The Atlantic published a comprehensive piece at the time entitled: “Police Have a Much Bigger Domestic-Abuse Problem Than the NFL Does,” providing extensive research on the subject.
The Atlantic reported that “Several studies have found that the romantic partners of police officers suffer domestic abuse at rates significantly higher than the general population. And while all partner abuse is unacceptable, it is especially problematic when domestic abusers are literally the people that battered and abused women are supposed to call for help.”
If there’s any job that domestic abuse should disqualify a person from holding, isn’t it the one job that gives you a lethal weapon, trains you to stalk people without their noticing, and relies on your judgment and discretion to protect the abused against domestic abusers?
As The Atlantic reported, the National Center for Women and Policing has published a “heavily footnoted” fact sheet on “Police Family Violence.” The chilling information sheet begins with the following:
Two studies have found that at least 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence,1, 2 in contrast to 10% of families in the general population.3 A third study of older and more experienced officers found a rate of 24%4, indicating that domestic violence is 2-4 times more common among police families than American families in general. A police department that has domestic violence offenders among its ranks will not effectively serve and protect victims in the community.5, 6, 7, 8 Moreover, when officers know of domestic violence committed by their colleagues and seek to protect them by covering it up, they expose the department to civil liability.
The fact sheet continues, stating that: “The reality is that even officers who are found guilty of domestic violence are unlikely to be fired, arrested, or referred for prosecution, raising concern that those who are tasked with enforcing the law cannot effectively police themselves.”5, 6, 7
- In 1998-1999, 23 domestic violence complaints were filed against Boston police employees, but none resulted in criminal prosecution.6
- The San Diego City Attorney typically prosecutes 92% of the domestic violence cases that are referred, but only 42% of the cases involving a police officer as the perpetrator are prosecuted.9
- Between 1990 and 1997, the Los Angles Police Department investigated 227 cases of alleged domestic violence by officers, of which 91 were sustained. Of these 91 allegations that were sustained by the department, only 4 resulted in a criminal conviction. That means that the LAPD itself determined in 91 cases that an officer had committed domestic violence, but only 4 were convicted on a criminal charge. Moreover, of these 4 officers who were convicted on a criminal charge of domestic violence, one was suspended for only 15 days and another had his conviction expunged.10
Diane Wetendorf, “a life-long advocate who pioneered the field of police officer-involved domestic violence” and publisher of a handbook to assist victims of police domestic violence made the following remark about “the impact of police perpetrated domestic violence:”
Many of the qualities valued in on-duty police officers can make them dangerous domestic violence offenders. All abusers employ similar methods to control and abuse their intimate partners. Officers however, have skills and tactics not commonly possessed by civilians. Professional training in force, weapons, intimidation, interrogation and surveillance — along with the cultural climate — become a dangerous and potentially lethal combination in a domestic situation. Victims face the bias of law enforcement agencies and the legal system, psychological intimidation, and a high lethality risk.
The National Center For Women & Policing confirms Wetendorf’s contentions, reporting that: “domestic violence is always a terrible crime, but victims of a police officer are particularly vulnerable because the officer who is abusing them:
- has a gun,
- knows the location of battered women’s shelters, and
- knows how to manipulate the system to avoid penalty and/or shift blame to the victim.”5, 6
THERE ARE NO CLEAR SOLUTIONS:
While there are no clear solutions or safeguards when it comes to defending against officer involved domestic violence, Diane Wetendorf has put together an outstanding safety plan available here. Her plan includes the following areas of concern:
- Safety During An Explosive Incident
- Safety when Preparing to Leave
- Safety in Your Own Home (If the abuser does not live with you)
- Safety with a Restraining Order/Order for Protection
- Safety in Public (School, work, social, recreational, or volunteer activities)
- Your Safety and Emotional Health
- Johnson, L.B. (1991). On the front lines: Police stress and family well-being. Hearing before the Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families House of Representatives: 102 Congress First Session May 20 (p. 32-48). Washington DC: US Government Printing Office.
- Neidig, P.H., Russell, H.E. & Seng, A.F. (1992). Interspousal aggression in law enforcement families: A preliminary investigation. Police Studies, Vol. 15 (1), p. 30-38.
- Straus, M. & Gelles, R. (1990). Physical violence in American families – risk factors and adaptations to violence in 8,145 families. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
- P.H. Neidig, A.F. Seng, and H.E. Russell, “Interspousal Aggression in Law Enforcement Personnel Attending the FOP Biennial Conference,” National FOP Journal. Fall/Winter 1992, 25-28.
- Levinson, A. (June 29, 1997). Abusers behind a badge. Arizona Republic.
- Police departments fail to arrest policemen for wife abuse (November 15, 1998). The Boston Globe.
- Feltgen, J. (October, 1996). Domestic violence: When the abuser is a police officer. The Police Chief, p. 42-49.
- Lott, L.D. (November, 1995). Deadly secrets: Violence in the police family. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, p. 12-16.
- Thornton, K. (May 11, 1998). Police and domestic violence. San Diego Union-Tribune.
- Domestic Violence Task Force (1997). Domestic Violence in the Los Angeles Police Department: How Well Does the Los Angeles Police Department Police Its Own? Office of the Inspector General.