Most of us see police and first responders as brave individuals who risk their lives to protect others so it's difficult to accept that some of them terrorize and threaten their own families. A batterer typically isolates his victim from her family and friends. He tells her that no one will believe her. He may force her to turn away from you with threats to hurt you. He warns her that people — even you — will believe his version of the story because he's a cop. He knows that people don't want to believe that an officer, sheriff, or firefighter can be a wife beater. He knows that it's easier for people to believe that she's lying, crazy, or refuses to do anything for herself.
Few people fully realize the impact of police and firefighter domestic violence. Many victims report that others don't appreciate the complexity of their situation. It's disappointing and frustrating for a woman to have to educate the very people she hoped would help and support her. As a family member or friend of an abused woman, you're afraid for her. You want to support her but you may also be confused, frustrated and afraid to get involved. When you learn how the batterer can use his professional tactics of power and control to intimidate your friend or family member, you will better understand the danger she's in. We suggest that you get familiar with some of the jargon, complications, and issues. It will then be easier for her to talk with you because she won't have to explain everything to you.
The more you learn about police-perpetrated domestic violence, the better will you be able to support your friend or family member.
Does she need to escape? Help her find a place to go that the abuser would not know about. Help her get there without using her own car. Make sure she has cash because she can't use any credit cards.
What are her legal needs? Help her find an attorney who has experience working with domestic violence. It may be necessary to educate the attorney on the nuances of officer-involved domestic violence.
Is she also in law enforcement or the fire service? She is particularly vulnerable because she must rely on the integrity and discretion of her fellow officers and supervisors to intervene and provide protection.
Talk with her about her greatest fears. What threats has he made against her and others close to her? How immediate are the threats? What is the likelihood of her receiving appropriate police protection?
Help her find resources and accurate information. It might be safer if you buy the books and then give them to her or allow her to keep them at your house.
Friend, family member, care provider, advocate, attorney, co-worker, fellow officer... you too may be at risk.
You might be afraid to get more involved because you don't want to endanger yourself or your family. The abuser can use many of the same professional tactics against you that he uses against his intimate partner. He may intimidate you by warning you not to get involved. He may let you know that he has the power to harm or kill her and that you can't stop him. If you have ever tried to get help for your friend or for yourself, you may have become frustrated because no one seems to understand the complexities of officer-involved domestic violence. The usual sources of help, such as your local community domestic violence advocates, may have little or no experience working with police victims. Domestic violence counselors may offer you the same options that they give to civilian battered women. Others may be afraid to get involved because of the abuser's influence in the community. Some may be afraid for their own personal safety.
Advocates should discuss strategies to protect themselves. The same tactics abusers use to intimidate their intimate partners can be used against advocates. Advocates report they have been followed, subjected to bogus traffic stops, and get harrassing or intimidating phone calls. A batterer may be subtle but still threatening. A Midwestern advocate described helping a victim file an order of protection, then finding the officer in her office later that day, saying "I'm aware that you were in court today helping my wife."
A police abuser has the power to set the entire criminal justice system in motion against anyone who helps his victim.
The abusive officer has a wide range of official powers and privileges that he can employ to intimidate or threaten you. He has access to confidential information such as your unlisted phone number, car registration, work location, even your credit and financial information. He can use electronic surveillance tools such as phone taps, sound-activated audio and video recording devices. There are vehicle tracking devices that he can attach to your vehicle. He knows how to get into your car or house. The abuser or fellow officers may drive by your street, your workplace, even your children's school or day care. They may harass you, your family, or friends with traffic stops, planted evidence, and false arrests. He can convince your neighbors to watch you and report to him. He doesn't fear the consequences of you calling the police. Responding officers may be his colleagues and friends who sympathize with him. If you think to personally challenge him, he knows how to make you afraid to take any legal steps.
If you are a police officer or a firefighter, you may be struggling with your own mixed feelings. You may find yourself making job-related excuses for the abuser that you would not make for a person in any other profession. You might be torn between wanting to protect the abuser's career and protecting the victim. Or you may be angry at the abuser and want to see him off the job, but fear retaliation if he is fired or suspended. If you serve at command level, Developing Policy on Officer-Involved Domestic Violence may help you understand how solutions good from the department's perspective can make things worse for the victim. We also suggest Crossing the Threshold: Female Officers & Police-Perpetrated Domestic Violence to better understand how institutional power filters down into intimate relationships. Finally, Abusive Police Officers Working the System shows how abusive officers can control and manipulate family and friends through their knowledge of the justice system.
If you are an advocate or other professional, we expect you're rethinking many of your strategies on many different levels. Your agency may be in partnership with the abuser's department, especially if you are partnered with a Family Justice Center. Consider reading When the Batterer Is a Law Enforcement Officer: Guide for Advocates (pdf format). This manual explores why standard remedies often are inadequate when dealing with officer-involved domestics. Hijacked by the Right explores why so many independent community agencies are losing their funding and being forced to join a Family Justice Center or close their doors.
Learning more about police-perpetrated domestic violence may help you get support for both yourself and your friend or family member. There are more resources and information available for you and your family. Our books are available in both print and electronic format. Finally, if the information on our Site has been useful to you, please consider making a contribution to support our work. Your donation supports free books for other women.
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