Police-Perpetrated Domestic Violence
Domestic violence unfortunately occurs much too often. Police families are not immune to it. Officers can be both abusers and victims. Research into the prevalence of police-perpetrated violence is still slim. One study put the percentage of officers who had gotten out of control and behaved violently toward their spouse or children at 40%. More specific studies indicated over one-quarter of the officers surveyed had engaged in violent behaviors. Even if these studies are disputed and the rate of domestic violence in police families is the same as the general population, Dr. Ellen Kirschman author of I Love a Cop estimates 60,000 to 180,000 families with police officers would be affected.
When a police officer is also a batterer, the situation is unique. Diane Wetendorf, an advocate, trainer and consultant specializing in police-perpetrated domestic violence states, "As the victim of a police officer, your situation is very different than that of other victims. If you have ever tried to get help you may have become discouraged because no one seemed to understand your plight." Ironically, the skills and characteristics officers develop that make them effective on the job also make officers very dangerous abusers. Wetendorf explains police are trained to:
- Walk in and take control of any situation
- Intimidate by presence alone, voice, stance
- Obtain information through interrogation and surveillance
- Deceive and manipulate when necessary
- Use weapons and deadly force
- Attribute the level of force used to the other party
- Assume a position of ultimate authority
Officers have an intimate relationship with their gun. Weapons are almost always in the home of police families. Acts of defiance on the job are viewed as threatening to officer safety. Remaining in a position of authority is vital to handling volatile situations. When an officer does not have tools to communicate with family members in a way different from that of a police officer, many revert to their professional training. This can be disastrous.
Victims of police-perpetrated domestic violence face additional barriers when seeking help. Wetendorf points out:
If your abuser is an officer of the law, you may be afraid to:
- Call the police - He is the police.
- Go to a shelter - He knows where the shelters are located.
- Have him arrested - Responding officers may invoke the code of silence.
- Take him to court - It's your word against that of an officer, and he knows the system.
- Drop the charges - You could lose any future credibility and protection.
- Seek a conviction - He will probably lose his job and retaliate against you.
Although many things have changed in the past ten years, such as the 1999 International Association of chiefs of Police (IACP) Model Policy and supporting Concepts and Issues Paper and the 2005 Crystal Judson Brame Domestic Violence Protocol Program police-perpetrated domestic violence remains a concern. Staying behind a wall of silence is no longer an option. There are police officers battering their spouses and/or their children. There are police officers being battered by their partners. There are police officers who know about it. There are departments who refuse to acknowledge this problem exists. There are also police officers, advocates, survivors and departments making a difference and saying this is unacceptable and doing something about it. Maybe with dialogue, training and accessible help the book can be closed with no more chapters added.