Officer-Involved Domestic Violence

Last updated 11 May 2009

 

Individuals who are the victims of domestic violence at the hands of police officer-batterers are often in a unique and particularly vulnerable situation. Unlike most victims of domestic violence, where the success of protective efforts depends on the cooperation of law enforcement, those subject to abuse from a member of the law enforcement community may, for a variety of reasons, be unable to secure the assistance they seek. And, studies indicate that police families are 2-4 times more likely than the general population to experience domestic violence, making the potential for disparities in protective success particularly troubling. From Police Family Violence Fact Sheet, National Center for Women & Policing 

 

The strong bonds of loyalty within most law enforcement communities, coupled with the discretion granted to officers in determining how to respond to allegations of abuse, may lead an abusing officer’s colleagues to not take action or to emphasize the private, familial nature of the problem. From Abuse of Power: The Brotherhood, Diane Wetendorf, Inc. Instead of recognizing the severity of the situation and taking protective or prosecutorial action, it is common for an abuser’s colleagues to refer him to counseling or to take some other remedial step. From Police Family Violence Fact Sheet, National Center for Women & Policing

 

Batterers who are police officers may be able to use their increased knowledge of the system to manipulate the victim and prolong the abusive relationship. Police officers have access to a great deal of information from a variety of sources; for example, police scanners, or vehicle tracking and recording equipment. Abusers may be able to utilize this information in order to control or harm their victim. From Domestic Violence in Police Families, Purple Berets. Additionally, police officers are often well-acquainted with women’s shelters and other advocacy/support resources their victim may try to utilize, making it harder for the victim to safely leave the abusive relationship. Abusing officers may also mislead the victim into believing that they don’t have any legal recourse, or that other police officers (batterer’s colleagues) won’t believe the victim. From Abuse of Power: The Brotherhood, Diane Wetendorf, Inc. Officers have had training in tactics of control and intimidation, and their misuse of this training can be very difficult to overcome. From Police Domestic Violence, LifeSpan.

 

In many domestic violence situations, the victim’s testimony is crucial to proving the allegations of abuse. Typically, the credibility of the victim and alleged abuser can be determined based on an examination of all of the circumstances. When the alleged abuser is a police officer, however, his status as an authoritative, respected member of the community may allow his account of events to be afforded more weight than it should. From Domestic Violence in Police Families, Purple Berets.

 

The victims of police officers may experience an increased hesitancy to report abuse for a number of reasons. Victims may be aware that reports of abuse made to a police department will not be kept confidential within that police department. If the abuser works for the department, he will learn of the victim’s allegations. Further, victims may lack confidence that they will be treated fairly if their case is handled by the batterer’s colleagues. Victims may also fear that a report with the police department will jeopardize the abuser’s job, possibly leading to retaliation. Yet, there is greater potential for lethality if the abuser is a member of the police. From Police Domestic Violence, LifeSpan.

 

Due to the unique challenges encountered by victims of batterers who are police officers, it is particularly important that these victims have the support of independent advocates who are not affiliated with law enforcement communities. A guide for advocates can be found here. Additionally, although a 1994 nationwide survey of 123 police departments revealed that 45% had no policy to address the problem of officer-involved domestic violence, police departments have begun to implement policies. From Police Family Violence Fact Sheet, National Center for Women & Policing. An example of a model policy can be found here. A discussion regarding the implementation of such a policy can be found here. A research report detailing the types of policies currently employed by police departments can be found here.

 

Compiled from:

 

1. Abuse of Power: Clearinghouse for Officer-Involved Domestic Violence Advocacy,  Consulting, Training, Diane Wetendorf, Inc., available at http://www.abuseofpower.info (last visited Apr. 23, 2009).

 

2. Police Family Violence Fact Sheet, National Center for Women & Policing, available at http://www.womenandpolicing.org/violenceFS.asp (last visited Apr. 23, 2009).

 

3. Police Domestic Violence, LifeSpan, available at http://www.life-span.org/policedv.htm (last visited Apr. 23, 2009).

 

4. Domestic Violence in Police Families, Purple Berets, available at http://www.purpleberets.org/violence_police_families.html (last visited Apr. 23, 2009).