When the Batterer Is an Officer: 10 Things Professionals Must Know
Use your most experienced advocate. Providing support and advocacy for a police victim requires an advocate who has worked with a wide range of women, understands the complexities of battering, has solid knowledge of available criminal and civil interventions, and understands the practices and politics of local law enforcement agencies.
Never underestimate the danger. Safety planning is even more complicated for police victims than it is for other victims. Police training, access to information, use of firearms, knowledge of the criminal justice system process, and fear of losing employment heighten the complexity and potential danger. There is a high risk for murder, suicide, or both.
Police have unique access to information. An officer/abuser knows the locations of local shelters and can readily discover the address of any shelter. By training and profession, police have investigative skills and access to many types of information, making it possible for the abuser to track the victim or obtain and use personal information against the victim and her family or friends.
Police training can reinforce the tactics of battering. Specialized training in investigation, surveillance, and use of force reinforce dominance and control and make police officer abusers among the most dangerous.
Police culture and officer-to-officer relationships can limit the department's response and victim support. Responding officers may be reluctant to believe that a working partner or friend is a batterer. They may be less believing of and less sympathetic to the victim, or feel conflicted between upholding the law and protecting their fellow officer's job.
A victim's help-seeking may threaten employment. The victim of a police officer may believe that any step she takes to protect herself will jeopardize her abuser's career. The victim will be reluctant to call 911, obtain an Order of Protection, or report the abuse to a supervisor because she fears retaliation from the abuser for tarnishing his reputation and/or interfering with his career.
Linkages between police and other agencies can limit intervention. Similar to the effect of working relationships between officers, the dispatcher or the prosecutor or the judge may be reluctant to believe that an officer is a batterer. The prosecutor's decision whether to proceed against a police batterer relies heavily on police cooperation, reports, investigation, and evidence collection.
Knowledge of the criminal justice system can be used to manipulate it. Police officer abusers know where the line is between criminal and non-criminal behavior. They have detailed knowledge about how the criminal justice system works, know the people who work in the system, and know how to use the system against the victim.
The abuser's profession confers credibility. An officer's professional standing brings with it a high degree of credibility. At the same time, he will do everything in his power to destroy the victim's credibility. Victims who fight back, who use drugs or alcohol, or who are mentally ill will be particularly vulnerable in comparison to his credibility and position within the criminal justice system.
When both the victim and the perpetrator are law enforcement officers, complications multiply. A female officer's victimization at home may be used as an indication that she is incompetent to perform her official duties. Other officers may ostracize her as a whistle blower. Her career and life are at stake and typical safety remedies will most likely not be viable options. Risks for the victim and others are magnified and the situation requires thoughtfulness and caution.
When the Victim Is an Officer: 10 Things Professionals Must Know
She may have little control over how or whether to disclose the abuse. The department's policy may require her to report the abuse, require co-workers who are aware of the abuse to report it, require her and other officers to cooperate with an investigation, and/or require her to inform the department if she obtains a protective order.
Police officer victims avoid calling 911. A female officer is typically embarrassed to admit that she is a victim of domestic violence. She knows that calling 911 will open her private life to the scrutiny of the department and to questions about her abilities as an officer.
Police officer victims cannot count on support from other officers. Other officers may take the abuser's word over hers. If there is a 911 call, they may directly or indirectly support the abuser and minimize or distort any investigation. Other officers may retaliate against her for making a complaint. Responding officers may be reluctant to identify one officer as an abuser and will apply the "mutual combat" label, without making a predominant aggressor determination. She can find her work under more scrutiny. Police officer victims often face isolation and may not receive back-up on the street.
The department may order her to cooperate with the internal investigation. She will be required to disclose personal information about her life and her intimate relationship with the abuser to the department.
The abuser may attempt to use her position and training as an officer against her. He may force the victim to defend herself and then report her for use of force, or use her reaction as the basis for a protective order. If she is the subject of a protective order, access to her weapon may be denied or restricted, thereby limiting her assignments or future as an officer.
She is unlikely to seek help from the local shelter and advocacy services. Female officers may fear being recognized by other residents or shelter staff. The shelter may be reluctant to house a police officer victim because of risks to the safety of other women and children. If the abuser is another police officer, the shelter location will be well known. An abuser who is another female officer may have already approached those services as a strategy to be seen as the victim.
Her profession is a barrier to others believing her experience. The prosecutor, for example, may doubt that an armed police officer can be a victim in her own home. She faces considerable victim-blaming because she is a police officer and "should know better" than to be in an abusive relationship.
If the victim is in a same-sex relationship, disclosing the abuse may also mean coming out to her department. If the department has been unaware of the victim's sexual orientation, disclosing the abuse also means disclosing her relationship. If the abuser is another female officer, the complaint may have "outed" both the victim and the abuser. Determining the predominant aggressor in same-sex cases is usually done poorly, if at all.
Disclosing the abuse may jeopardize her career as a police officer. The department may order the victim to take a psychological examination to determine whether she is fit-for-duty. She may be suspended or placed on medical leave pending the investigation.
The risk is heightened if the victim and abuser are both officers. In this circumstance, they have weapons and training to both defend against and perpetrate violence. Responding officers may be reluctant to identify one officer as the abuser and may mislabel the abuse "mutual combat" and decline to intervene.
When the Batterer Is an Officer:
10 Things to Discuss with the Victim
Police officer abusers are among the most dangerous abusers. Explore whether the abuser is using his police training, tactics and equipment to intimidate and terrorize the victim.
There are long-term implications with every crisis safety measure. Examine crisis options with a careful eye to the long-term implications.
The response to her 911 call may differ from usual policies and procedures. Inform the victim how the police should respond and warn her as to how they might respond. Know the department's domestic violence policy and protocol.
An internal investigation is extremely threatening to the officer and is a dangerous period for the victim. Review the process, implications, and safety concerns in an internal (departmental) investigation. It is up to the woman whether to cooperate. She needs to know that interviews with the Internal Affairs Division, as it is often known, or other designated investigators are not confidential. The abuser will know what she disclosed to the investigator.
Though it is unlikely that the officer will lose his job, it is always a possibility. Talk about what the victim thinks the abuser would do if he were to lose his job. Consider the potential for retaliation, the threat to her and her family's safety, and the financial consequences she will face if the abuser is suspended or terminated.
Getting an Order of Protection may be difficult. Consider the impact and long-term repercussions of obtaining and losing a protective order. Obtaining an emergency Order of Protection will be relatively easy compared to getting a final order. Would local police enforce the order?
Prosecuting a police officer has many obstacles. Give the victim information about the criminal justice system and the players in the system — their roles, their objectives, and their priorities. Talk about the complexities of pursuing charges when abuser is an officer.
Saving her own documentation and evidence is important. Advise the victim to save evidence of everything. Emphasize that to the court it is not what happened or what she knows that matters, only what she can prove happened. Without evidence, it is a "he said, she said"" situation, and the officer will be given the benefit of the doubt.
Hiding from a law enforcement officer is practically impossible in the long run. Articulate the realities and difficulties of hiding, as well as strategies. He knows where local shelters are and is able to find locations of shelters in other areas. He can track her down using her license plates, tracing credit card usage, etc. He can find her even if she gets a new Social Security number.
Suicide / homicide is a way abusers exert their ultimate control over the victim. Emphasize the danger of suicide threats. There is a high risk of homicide/suicide in officer-involved cases. The relationship is over when he says it's over.