Every time a football player or an NBA star makes headlines for domestic abuse, the country goes up in arms as news outlets talk about domestic violence among these industries. Because of this phenomenon, 69 percent of Americans think that there is widespread domestic violence in the NFL.
But the reality is that domestic violence among NFL players is well below the national average, coming in at just five percent. On the contrary, however, every time a police officer—someone who has sworn an oath to uphold the constitution and the law—beats their significant other, it barely registers as a blip in the media. This is in spite of some incredibly disturbing numbers when it comes to domestic violence among police.
The average rate of families who experience domestic violence in the country is around 10 percent. When we look at police officers families, however, that number quadruples. As the National Center for Women and Policing points out, two studies have found that at least 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence.
The most recent data on the matter shows that Officer-Involved Domestic Violence or OIDV, is a major problem.
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 officer-involved domestic violence (OIDV) may, for a variety of reasons, be unable to secure the assistance they seek. This is particularly troublesome in light of increased rates of domestic violence in police officer families.
Even more startling than the fact that 40% of police officer families experiencing domestic violence is the fact that this number is likely far higher as it is estimated that much of it goes unreported.
According to Leigh Goodmark, author of Hands Up at Home: Militarized Masculinity and Police Officers Who Commit Intimate Partner,
The data on intimate partner abuse by police officers are both dated and potentially flawed, but in ways that make it more likely that abuse is being under—rather than over—reported. Most of the studies rely on self-reporting by police officers to establish prevalence of abuse. Self-reporting is a notoriously unreliable measure; as one study noted, ‘The issue of the reliability of self-reports data is problematic when considering any socially undesirable behavior.’
The problem of police violence often times comes out in full display in the form of violent murder suicides. In December, the nation was shocked to hear about the tragedy that unfolded in Plant City, Florida in which a Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputy killed his wife, daughter and granddaughter, then confessed to their murders over his agency radio before killing himself.
Terry L. Strawn, 58, a Sheriff’s Office veteran who was once named Officer of the Year was the perpetrator. It is unclear how much abuse his family suffered before he made the ultimate decision to murder them.
In less serious cases, police have been seen beating their wives or girlfriends—in public, while in uniform.
As TFTP reported last year, officer Ian Ray and his girlfriend attended McGavock Elementary School for a child’s graduation when the two got into a verbal argument during the ceremony.
Ray was in uniform at the time and multiple witnesses reported seeing a police officer grab his girlfriend around the neck or hair and brutalize her. During the altercation, witnesses called police who showed up and then arrested the officer.
In that case, the officer was arrested. Sadly, however, many of these abusive cops are protected by their own departments and when an abused spouse or girlfriend attempts to get help, they are ignored and the abuser protected.
As TFTP has previously noted, a report by a government-appointed watchdog group shows that most of the time, the abusive officers commit these crimes with seeming impunity.
A study conducted by the Domestic Violence Task Force called Domestic Violence in the Los Angeles Police Department: How Well Does the Los Angeles Police Department Police Its Own? revealed that performance evaluations of cops with a history of domestic violence are largely unaffected. The study of the LAPD examined 91 cases in which an allegation of domestic violence was sustained against an officer.
- Over three-fourths of the time, this sustained allegation was not mentioned in the officer’s performance evaluation.
- Twenty-six of these officers (29%) were promoted, including six who were promoted within two years of the incident.
The report concluded that “employees with sustained allegations were neither barred from moving to desired positions nor transferred out of assignments that were inconsistent with the sustained allegation.”
Sadly, it is estimated that many of the abused women never come forward as they know the likely result — which is getting shamed by the department for reporting it and potentially more abuse.
Diane Wetendorf, a specialist on police abuse, points out the most common fears when reporting police domestic abuse in her handbook:
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.
These fears can make someone feel incredibly trapped and feel like there is no way out.
If you or someone you know is a victim of this type of abuse we encourage you to no longer remain silent. As long as people go unpunished for their abuse, they will continue to dole it out.