Above the Law? Officer-Involved Domestic Violence

The public and the media have lately been scrutinizing police actions and allegations of misconduct in the deaths of men including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland; and Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina.

While these are high-profile cases, police committing crimes often plays out on a smaller, quieter scale. Often, the victims of police brutality are not the criminal suspects they encounter on the streets, but instead, the family waiting for them at home.

On Friday, and Oklahoma City police officer was arrested in Mustang after local police were summoned in response to a domestic violence call. Mustang police arrested Master Sgt. Greg Driskill on complaints of domestic abuse and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. Oklahoma City police Captain Paco Balderrama told reporters that Driskill is placed on administrative leave pending the results of the Mustang police investigation into the allegations against him.

Like anyone else, the law officer is innocent until proven guilty, and an arrest or even a criminal charge does not allow the presumption that a person is guilty of the crime of which he is accused.

Still, if the allegations of domestic violence in a police family are true, it would not be uncommon, according to statistics about officer-involved domestic violence.

According to the National Center for Women and Policing (NCWP), at least two studies show that domestic violence occurs in 40% of law enforcement households. This number  is staggering on its own, but even more surprising when compared to the general population, in which 10% of families experience domestic violence.

If these studies are accurate, why would violence occur more frequently in law enforcement households? There are several factors, according to the NCWP, that perhaps breed domestic abuse in these homes:

  • The presence of a firearm
  • The officer's knowledge of local battered women's shelters and ability to find a partner who tries to leave
  • The officer's understanding of how the system works and how to avoid blame
  • Failure of departmental policies
  • "Exceedingly light" discipline

Most studies related to officer-involved domestic violence(OIDV) are older studies--conducted in the early 1990's or before. Without sufficient--and recent--data, it can be difficult to determine whether the aforementioned rate of OIDV is accurate, and many, particularly those in law enforcement, say it is not. A 2013 investigation by the New York Times involving OIDV in Florida showed the need for accurate reporting of OIDV. According to the report, a 2000 study of Florida law officers asked them whether they had been involved in violence against a spouse or domestic partner. One in 10 admitted that he or she had "slapped, punched, or otherwise injured" the partner. That 10% rate would be equivalent to the rate of domestic violence in the general population. However, the study relied only on self-reporting. When the state adopted automated arrest reporting seven years later, the arrest rate for OIDV doubled--from 293 in the five years prior to automated reporting to 775 in the first five years of automated reporting.

Accountability has to be at the forefront of law enforcement policies regarding OIDV. If, in fact, officers abuse their family members at higher rates than the general population, departments must look at the reasons these households are so volatile and work toward solutions that reduce violence in law enforcement families. 

Image Credit: Scott Davidson

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