Police Family Violence Fact Sheet
Two studies have found that at least 40% of police officer families
experience domestic violence, (1, 2) in contrast
to 10% of families in the general population.(3)
A third study of older and more experienced officers found a rate of 24%
(4), indicating that domestic violence is 2-4 times
more common among police families than American families in general. A
police department that has domestic violence offenders among its ranks
will not effectively serve and protect victims in the community.5,
6, 7, 8 Moreover, when officers know of domestic violence committed
by their colleagues and seek to protect them by covering it up, they expose
the department to civil liability.7
Unique Vulnerability | Failure
of Departmental Policies | "Exceedingly Light Discipline"
| Performance Evaluations Not Affected | The
LAPD Investigation | Legislative Response | Lack
of Enforcement Undermines Law's Effectiveness | Resources
Domestic violence is always a terrible crime, but victims of a police
officer are particularly vulnerable because the officer who is abusing
- has a gun,
- knows the location of battered women's shelters, and
- knows how to manipulate the system to avoid penalty and/or shift blame
to the victim.5, 6
Victims often fear calling the police, because they know the case will
be handled by officers who are colleagues and/or friends of their abuser.
Victims of police family violence typically fear that the responding officers
will side with their abuser and fail to properly investigate or document
the crime.5, 7
Failure of Departmental Policies
These suspicions are well founded, as most departments across the country
typically handle cases of police family violence informally, often without
an official report, investigation, or even check of the victim's safety.5,
8, 9 This "informal" method is often in direct contradiction to legislative
mandates and departmental policies regarding the appropriate response
to domestic violence crimes. Moreover, a 1994 nationwide survey of 123
police departments documented that almost half (45%) had no specific policy
for dealing with officer-involved domestic violence. In that same study:
- The most common discipline imposed for a sustained allegation of domestic
violence was counseling.
- Only 19% of the departments indicated that officers would be terminated
after a second sustained allegation of domestic violence.9
- A recent study of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department found inconsistent
policies and practices for officers accused of domestic violence, regarding
arrests, seizure of firearms, and Employee Assistance treatment.10
There is no reason to believe that the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department
is unique in this; rather, this inconsistency is typical for police
agencies responding to domestic violence committed by its own members.
Although the International Association of Chiefs of Police have prepared
a model policy on police officer-involved domestic violence, there is
no evidence that police departments across the country are doing anything
other than simply including the policy in their manuals.
Violent Police Officers Receive "Exceedingly Light Discipline"
The reality is that even officers who are found guilty of domestic violence
are unlikely to be fired, arrested, or referred for prosecution, raising
concern that those who are tasked with enforcing the law cannot effectively
police themselves.5, 6, 7 For example:
- In 1998-1999, 23 domestic violence complaints were filed against Boston
police employees, but none resulted in criminal prosecution.6
- The San Diego City Attorney typically prosecutes 92% of the domestic
violence cases that are referred, but only 42% of the cases involving
a police officer as the perpetrator are prosecuted.11
- Between 1990 and 1997, the Los Angles Police Department investigated
227 cases of alleged domestic violence by officers, of which 91 were
sustained. Of these 91 allegations that were sustained by the department,
only 4 resulted in a criminal conviction. That means that the LAPD itself
determined in 91 cases that an officer had committed domestic violence,
but only 4 were convicted on a criminal charge. Moreover, of these 4
officers who were convicted on a criminal charge of domestic violence,
one was suspended for only 15 days and another had his conviction expunged.12
In fact, an in-depth investigation of the Los Angeles Police Department
conducted by the Office of the Inspector General concluded that the discipline
imposed on officers found guilty of domestic violence "was exceedingly
light when the facts of each incident were examined" (p. i).12
Performance Evaluations Not Affected; Violent Officers
The study of the Los Angeles Police Department further examined the 91
cases in which an allegation of domestic violence was sustained against
- Over three-fourths of the time, this sustained allegation was not
mentioned in the officer's performance evaluation.
- Twenty-six of these officers (29%) were promoted, including six who
were promoted within two years of the incident.
The report concluded that "employees with sustained allegations were
neither barred from moving to desired positions nor transferred out of
assignments that were inconsistent with the sustained allegation" (p.
The LAPD Investigation
In 1997, the Los Angeles Office of the Inspector General conducted an
investigation of the LAPD after a legal consultant named Bob Mullally
leaked shocking LAPD personnel files to the press. These files documented
scores of violent domestic crimes committed by LAPD officers. Mullally
was so shocked by the LAPD's mishandling of this police family violence
that he decided to violate the civil protective order in the case he was
working on and turn the files over to the media, in the hopes of creating
change in the LAPD.
- Rather than reviewing the problem or recommending
improvements, the LAPD sued Mullally for leaking the information.
- In 2002, after multiple appeals, Mullally was sentenced
to 45 days in federal prison. None of the police officers he exposed
were ever prosecuted for their crimes, and many continue to serve as
gun-carrying LAPD officers.
Even the prosecutor in the case stated on record that this sentence
was "extreme" for a violation of a civil protective order.
- Mullally is the first person in United States history
to ever serve a jail term for this type of violation. He served his
time in 2003, 6 years after he exposed the files.
The National Center for Women & Policing and the Feminist Majority
Foundation have been actively involved in this case, which was featured
in 2000 in a 60 Minutes segment with Mike Wallace. For more information
on the case or to obtain documents including the amicus brief submitted
by the National Center for Women & Policing and the Feminist Majority
Foundation, please contact our office at (310)556-2526.
In 1996, an important federal law was passed, which prohibits individuals
-- including police officers -- from owning or using a firearm if they
have been convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense (18 U.S.C.
- This bill was designed to expand the federal law which only barred
gun ownership from those convicted of a felony offense.14
- A section of the 1994 Crime Bill also prohibits individuals from
possessing a firearm while a protective order, restraining order, or
harassment order is in effect.15 There is an official
use exemption, however, that allows police and military personnel
who are subject to protective orders to possess their government-issued
firearms while on duty. This exemption is in effect unless the protective
order specifically states the officer can not carry a weapon at any
time (18 U.S.C. § 925).
Lack of Enforcement Undermines Effectiveness of
Unfortunately, an early analysis of the Domestic Violence Gun Ban
on police officers shows that law enforcement officers have been able
to circumvent the ban and retain their weapons. A 1999 survey of the
nation's largest 100 police departments revealed that only six cities
acted against officers because of the Domestic Violence Gun Ban and
only eleven officers were affected. Part of the reason for the lack
of enforcement is that police officers plead to a charge other than
domestic violence.16 However, there are also
- First, there is typically no procedure in place to ensure that
the courts notify police departments that a court order is in effect
against an officer. Most police departments rely on the police officer
to personally inform the department of the order, thereby limiting
- The threat of losing their gun and job can also motivate police
officers to work harder to insure that their victims tell no one
about the abuse. This can make victims of police family violence
even more reluctant to report the crime. 5, 17
Finally, there is evidence that some officers convicted of domestic
violence have their records expunged and remain on the department.12,
16, 18, 19, 20
For more information about police family violence, contact any of
the following resources:
Anne O'Dell, STOP Domestic
Founded in 1978, LifeSpan is a not-for-profit agency that provides
comprehensive services to victims of domestic violence and their children.
The Police Domestic Violence Program (known as S.A.B.L.E.) is a unique
project that provides specialized counseling, legal, and advocacy
services for victims whose abusers are police or other law enforcement
personnel. LifeSpan can be reached at online or by calling 1-847-824-4454.
Handbook for Victims
A comprehensive handbook is available for victims of police domestic
violence, published by LifeSpan and available at their web site (www.life-span.org)
or by calling (847) 824-0382. Copies are also available through Volcano
Press at www.volcanopress.com or 1-800-879-879-9636. The handbook
is a unique web site devoted to providing resources for victims of
domestic violence whose abusers are police officers and firefighters.
Content includes tactics of abuse, impact upon victims and their families
and friends, dealing with the justice system, and many other topics.
The site also addresses the impact on the career of the police officer
who is a victim of domestic violence. The website is published by
Diane Wetendorf, Inc. Diane is a national expert in this area and
longtime advocate for victims of police-perpetrated domestic violence.
The Victim Handbook described above is also available for downloading.
Chicago Police Department
The Chicago Police Department has taken the lead in implementing
progressive policies to handle domestic violence perpetrated by its
employees. The department has established an independent unit within
the Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate these cases,
under civilian leadership. Active outreach is also conducted with
families of police officers and an advocate is employed by the department
solely to work with spouses of CPD personnel.
Victims of CPD personnel can report domestic violence through a 24-hour
complaint desk, and a supervisor is immediately notified of the problem.
Free, professional counseling is available for any employee whose
abusive behavior comes to the attention of the department, and allegations
are thoroughly investigated and referred for prosecution when appropriate.
The unit deals with approximately 250 cases of police family violence
a year, on a department with approximately 13,5000 sworn personnel.
For more information, contact Callie Baird at the Office of Professional
Responsibility (312) 747-1591 or Sgt. Judith Martin at the Domestic
Violence Program (312) 745-6340.
IACP Model Policy
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has developed
a model policy for police agencies on how to handle cases of domestic
violence perpetrated by a police officer. They have also produced
a concept and issues paper on the topic. Both can be obtained by contacting
the IACP at www.theiacp.org or 1-800-the-iacp (843-4227).
1 Johnson, L.B. (1991). On the front lines: Police stress and
family well-being. Hearing before the Select Committee on Children,
Youth, and Families House of Representatives: 102 Congress First Session
May 20 (p. 32-48). Washington DC: US Government Printing Office.
2 Neidig, P.H., Russell, H.E. & Seng, A.F. (1992). Interspousal aggression
in law enforcement families: A preliminary investigation. Police
Studies, Vol. 15 (1), p. 30-38.
3 Straus, M. & Gelles, R. (1990). Physical violence in American
families - risk factors and adaptations to violence in 8,145 families.
New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
4 P.H. Neidig, A.F. Seng, and H.E. Russell, "Interspousal Aggression
in Law Enforcement Personnel Attending the FOP Biennial Conference,"
National FOP Journal. Fall/Winter 1992, 25-28.
5 Levinson, A. (June 29, 1997). Abusers behind a badge. Arizona
6 Police departments fail to arrest policemen for wife abuse (November
15, 1998). The Boston Globe.
7 Feltgen, J. (October, 1996). Domestic violence: When the abuser
is a police officer. The Police Chief, p. 42-49.
8 Lott, L.D. (November, 1995). Deadly secrets: Violence in the police
family. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, p. 12-16.
9 Arlington, Texas Police Department and Southwestern Law Enforcement
Institute (1995). Domestic assaults among police: A survey of internal
affairs policies. Southwestern Law Enforcement Institute.
10 Cassidy, M., Nicholl, C.G. & Ross, C.R. (2001). Results of
a Survey Conducted by the Metropolitan Police Department of Victims
who Reported Violence Against Women. Executive Summary published
by the DC Metropolitan Police Department.
11 Thornton, K. (May 11, 1998). Police and domestic violence.
San Diego Union-Tribune.
12 Domestic Violence Task Force (1997). Domestic Violence in the
Los Angeles Police Department: How Well Does the Los Angeles Police
Department Police Its Own? Office of the Inspector General.
13 Omnibus Appropriations Bill (H.R. 4278), Section 658.
14 Kime, R.C. (December, 1996). New federal gun ban tied to domestic
violence convictions. The Police Chief, p. 10.
15 Culp, M.H. (March, 2000). Officer-involved orders for protection:
A management challenge. The Police Chief, p. 10.
16 Ed Meyer et al. (1999, December 5). Few lose jobs. Akron Beacon
17 Model policy overlooks views of Chicago's in-house expert (April
30, 1998). Law Enforcement News, p. 9.
18 Tobar, H. (May 26, 1997). Officer's expunged conviction angers
ex-wife. Los Angeles Times.
19 Tobar, H. (May 9, 1997). 3 Deputies go to court, regain right
to carry guns. Los Angeles Times.
20 Records deleted in assault case involving Louisville policeman.
(November 1, 2001). Louisville Courier Journal.