Officer-Involved Domestic Violence:
The Extent of the Problem
violence is 2 to 4 times more common in police families than in
the general population. In two separate studies, 40% of police
officers self-report that they have used violence against their
domestic partners within the last year. In the general population,
it's estimated that domestic violence occurs in about 10% of families.
In a nationwide
survey of 123 police departments, 45% had no specific policy for
dealing with officer-involved domestic violence. In that same
survey, the most common discipline imposed for a sustained allegation
of domestic violence was counseling. Only 19% of departments indicated
that officers would be terminated after a second sustained allegation
of domestic violence.
In San Diego,
a national model in domestic violence prosecution, the City Attorney
typically prosecutes 92% of referred domestic violence cases,
but only 42% of cases where the batterer is a cop. (The foregoing
information was gathered from the National
Center for Women and Policing, Abuse
of Power, and
Life Span .
police domestic violence moved from the back rooms to the front
pages when Tacoma, Washington Police Chief David Brame shot and
killed his wife, Crystal Brame, as their two young children waited
nearby. Prior to the shooting, Crystal had filed court papers
accusing her husband of two separate incidents over the prior
six months when David Brame pointed his service revolver at her
and tried to choke her, threatening to "snap [her] neck."
In the wake
of Brame's death, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer did an extensive
investigation into officer-involved domestic violence in the Seattle
area. They found 41 officers who had been accused of domestic
violence within the previous five years, a number of them accused
of multiple incidents. Few paid any professional price; less than
half faced charges, and only one was convicted. Among the cases
unearthed by the Post-Intelligencer are these:
Police Ofcr. Phil Rees flew into a rage and slammed his wife,
Jenifer, into a wall and hurled a dresser drawer at her, leaving
visible injuries. Jenifer Rees called King County sheriff's deputies,
who handed her intoxicated husband back his gun and let him drive
away, "so he wouldn't miss work in the morning." No
charges were filed. Rees was not disciplined, despite two prior
complaints of domestic violence against him.
In a fight
with his wife, Ofcr. Kevin Hawley grabbed his handgun saying,
"I'm going to blow my fucking head off and you're going to
watch." He then put the gun barrel in his mouth and pressed
his cheek against hers. No internal investigation was conducted.
Hawley was promoted to detective.
before Christmas, Washington State Trooper Ronald Somerville
grabbed his girlfriend by the throat, shoved her over the couch
and pounced on her. When she ran to the phone to call 911, Somerville
snatched the receiver and hung it up. As she darted for the stairs,
he grabbed her again, put his hand around her throat and pushed
her down, shouting, "You don't want to go out this way."
Somerville was charged with 4th degree assault and vandalism,
charges that were later dismissed. His discipline? A written reprimand.
found that police departments in general were:
a double standard by not immediately arresting officers accused
of domestic violence.
victims at greater risk by not taking away the officers' guns.
to conduct thorough internal investigations of the incidents.
(In many cases no review was conducted.)
determining there was wrongdoing in domestic violence complaints
specific policies on how to handle officers accused of abuse.
not the only city having problems with officer-involved domestic
violence. In other areas, things look pretty much the same.
Massachusetts may Michael Bonfanti said he believed "human
error" was responsible for the omission of Marblehead Police
Ofcr. Cary Gaynor's name from the police log after his arrest
on domestic assault charges.
Gaynor was arrested after, in a fit of rage, he struck his wife
with such force that the blow knocked her to the ground and
bloodied her nose. Marblehead Police Chief Robert Champagne
claimed responding police weren't told Gaynor was a cop;
however, on the 911 tape Gaynor's wife can be heard saying her
husband is a police officer.
Wisconsin Police Ofcr. James Brudos was arrested twice
in less than a month for bail-jumping and restraining order
violations, after pounding on the doors and windows of an ex-girlfriend's
home, according to court documents.
County, Colorado, Sheriff's Lt. Steven Wayne DeKruger
was arrested last July after becoming enraged during an argument
with his wife. DeKruger grabbed a Glock 9mm automatic handgun
and pointed it at her, then brought the gun up under his chin,
saying he was going to shoot himself.
had been charged just a month earlier for sexual misconduct
in a penal institution and unlawful sexual contact with a victim
who was in custody., At a pre-trial hearing, DeKruger's attorney
protested his $3,000 bail as "excessive."
Washington Police Ofcr. Bruce Dobbs was charged with
felony harassment after he went to his ex's home and threatened
to slit his stepson's throat during a heated dispute over family
issues. Dobbs, who sits on the board of directors for the Crime
Stoppers program, was released on his own recognizance.
Lexington, Kentucky police officers were accused of domestic
violence over a four-month period. Two were charged; in two
of the cases charges were dropped because the victims were too
afraid to testify. In response, Lexington Police Chief Anthany
Beatty is developing a counseling program for officers.
March this year, a Tacoma police Ofcr. Marco Rahn was
charged with assaulting his estranged wife and sending her to
the hospital. Court documents allege Rahn grabbed his estranged
wife by the throat and threw her to the ground off a retaining
wall. After his arrest, Rahn told a detective his wife fell
over the retaining wall by accident. Rahn had received a letter
of reprimand in 1999 after a Washington State Patrol investigation
found he harassed a Tacoma woman who turned down his numerous
requests for a date.
Clearly the partners of police officers represent a class of domestic
violence victims whose access to law enforcement protection is
severely proscribed. These women usually don't report to police,
primarily because he is the police and because often they are
threatened with death if they do anything to compromise his job.
As a result, when they do finally get out, prosecution is nearly
impossible due to the lack of contemporaneous police reports,
photographs of their injuries, 911 tapes, etc.
And when they
do report, as we saw in the Lubiszewski case, the investigation
is incomplete or nonexistent making prosecution even more difficult;
the victims are intimidated and urged to drop their complaints;
and nothing is done to put the batterer in check, only increasing
the woman's danger.
Those of us
whose job is the protection of women from domestic violence have
a responsibility to these women to provide them equal protection
as provided in the California and U.S. Constitutions. At this
moment we are failing in that task. It's time for us to turn that