Developing Policy on Officer-Involved Domestic Violence

Diane Wetendorf & Dottie L. Davis, ©2003, 2006 All rights reserved.
Police administrators know that certain policy elements are needed to protect the department from liability. Victim advocates find these elements make victims more vulnerable than before policy was implemented.

Topics addressed in this article:

Officer-involved domestic violence is a problem that law enforcement is reluctant to acknowledge. Because victims of this crime rarely come forward to report the abuse, departments have been able to minimize the extent of the problem. But when a domestic situation involving an officer leads to murder-suicide, police administrators witness the impact not only in the department, but in the community as a whole. They also know they face a potential multi-million dollar financial disaster. It is thus predictable that departments will see the need to adopt policy specific to officer-involved domestic violence in order to prevent such incidents and to protect their departments from liability if an incident should occur in their own department...

Many administrators look to existing policies in other agencies for guidance in crafting their own policies. Some departments, especially those with government funding that requires them to work collaboratively with victim advocates, may also look to domestic violence advocates for input in developing response to victims. Though this collaboration may be beneficial in cases involving the general population, it is likely to present conflicts when the batterer is a member of law enforcement...

Our goal is for police administrators and victim advocates to jointly explore the impact of various elements up for inclusion in officer-involved domestic violence policy.

Because many aspects of this issue are complex and ambiguous, both police administrators and advocates are bound to experience conflict and frustration when they confront this problem. We think it essential that we acknowledge from the outset that law enforcement and advocates have different perspectives, priorities and goals. From the police administrator's perspective, certain aspects of a policy are absolutely necessary to protect the department from liability. From the victim advocate's perspective, these very elements leave a victim more vulnerable than she was before policy was implemented. Advocates want police agencies to hold abusive officers accountable — but not at the expense of the victim. Police administrators also want to protect victims — but not at the expense of exposing the department to liability or of depriving officers of their rights to due process...

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