Law Enforcement Involved Domestic Abuse

By Graves, Alex | Law & Order, November 2004 | Go to article overview

Law Enforcement Involved Domestic Abuse


Graves, Alex, Law & Order


A situation involving a police officer who abuses a partner, family or household member differs from other batterers. Police are trained to walk in and take command of a situation, dressed in a uniform that establishes authority. They are taught a range of information gathering techniques, surveillance tactics, and interrogation techniques.

Police officers know too well the circumstances that justify the use of force. They are trained to articulate their use of force to various investigative bodies. The very characteristics, techniques and experiences instilled in police officers when used in intimate relationships, make police officers the most dangerous of domestic abusers.

Reasons for a Comprehensive Policy

A comprehensive policy that pertains to officer involved domestic abuse enables the employing agency to adopt a proactive approach toward preventing volatile family abuse cases amongst their ranks. A policy establishes a zero-tolerance posture, and promulgates the agency's commitment to maintaining community trust, discipline, leadership, while recognizing and addressing lethality and liability issues.

Like it or not, community members hold law enforcement personnel to a higher standard for both off-duty and on-duty conduct. A well-written policy reaffirms to the community that the necessary components to ensure victim safety have been included, and to maintain a scrutinizing eye from the date of hire upon those entrusted to protect and serve.

Thorough pre-hire background investigations, psychological screening, high quality training and consistently implemented management, liability risks are greatly reduced, in addition to community trust and confidence being maintained.

No agency can afford the negative ramifications that come with a domestic abuse incident by one of their own. An insufficient or complete lack of a policy increases risk of civil litigation stemming from unaddressed domestic violence issues involving agency personnel.

Proactive, non-punitive measures should be emphasized in the policy. Availability of community resources and support should be identified, and officers encouraged to utilize resources before the occurrence of a domestic abuse incident.

It is absolutely critical that supervisors receive training on possible warning signs of domestic violence and furthermore that the supervisors be required to maintain close supervision of involved officers.

Peers with direct knowledge of abuse or violence involving fellow officers should be mandated by policy to notify his or her supervisor for proper documentation and investigation. These officers should also report to supervisors any knowledge of unofficial surveillance or stalking of the victim or witnesses.

The moment any officer reveals his involvement (non-victim) in an abusive situation to a peer, supervisor, or any other employee of the agency the disclosure should be regarded as an inculpatory admission of a crime, subject to criminal and internal investigations.

Departmental Response to Officers as Suspects

It is important that agency leaders recognize that some police officers physically abuse their partners. It is imperative that a position of zero-tolerance be disseminated, repeated and upheld by the agency regarding these potentially lethal incidents.

The position of agency administration can be delineated through a comprehensive policy that establishes procedures for dealing with reported domestic violence involving law enforcement personnel.

A sound policy will provide administrators, responding officers, and the community with the protocol to be used when one (or more than one) party involved in a domestic disturbance is a law enforcement officer. Potential civil liability issues may be reduced, in addition to ensuring compliance with local, state, and federal statutes.

Mandatory compliance with the adopted policy with no regard to position, title, rank, seniority, or pay-grade, promotes and ensures that the agency will act in accordance with established methodology to protect victims, arrest the perpetrator, and complete thorough criminal and internal investigations. …

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