Abusive Police Officers: Working the System

©2006 Diane Wetendorf All Rights Reserved.


No one knows the extent to which police officers abuse their wives or intimate partners. The International Association of Chiefs of Police states that the rate of officer-involved domestic violence “is estimated to be at least as common as that of the general population.” There has been little research on the prevalence of officer-involved domestic violence....

This essay explores how police authority, training and culture is used by abusive officers to enhance their power and control over their family members.

Officers who batter use tactics of control that they have acquired through professional training and experience, including exaggerated forms of verbal, psychological, and physical abuse....

It draws connections between police officers’ professional training and worldview and the characteristics and worldview of civilians who batter. Their professional credibility and training uniquely position officers who batter to explain, defend, and summon institutional support and assistance from the very systems to which victims are theoretically supposed to turn to for protection....

It is crucial that community agencies assign their most experienced advocates to victims of police officer-involved domestic violence. Additionally, police administrators must provide focus and direction through policy initiatives and training for all ranks of law enforcement. Finally, prosecutors and judges must consider the unique circumstances of police victims....

Because of society’s reliance on police officers to enforce laws against domestic violence, confronting police-perpetrated domestic violence is essential in order to eradicate domestic violence in our communities. Examining the commonalities between police abuse of authority, police mistreatment of citizens/suspects, and police abuse of their intimate partners may help identify and address the underlying beliefs and values that foster that abuse. Until police-perpetrated domestic violence is fully acknowledged and confronted, victims of police officers cannot feel safe relying on the police for protection....

Topics addressed in this booklet:

  • Arena of power
  • Authority to use force
  • Culture of control
  • Victims' safety measures & advocate interventions
  • Order of protection
  • Department notification
  • Patrol response
  • Prosecution
  • Flight
  • Divorce
  • Counter-tactics

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