Police Interview Newsletter - Cops Who Abuse

Volume 3, Issue 1
January/February 2004

This month's Newsletter offers an overview of key facts and concepts presented in chapter 9-”Domestic Abuse: The Best- Kept Secret Shame of Policing” - of Ellen Kirschman, Ph.D's Book "I Love A Cop."

Due to limited space, much of what Dr. Kirschman presents and discusses could not be addressed or reviewed in this newsletter format. What follows is my effort to highlight some of the more important data and key concepts related to the problem of law enforcement officers who abuse their spouses. The reader is strongly encouraged to obtain a copy of I Love A Cop (see link at www.policeinterview.com) in order to read the entire chapter and to gain a more complete understanding of domestic abuse among police officers.

Selected materials from Dr. Kirschman's book are summarized and presented below. Where I have quoted directly or reproduced the author's lists verbatim from her book, the material appears in bold type. I want to thank Dr. Ellen Kirschman for presenting this information on police spousal abuse in such a compelling and responsible fashion.



It is difficult to know whether the amount of spousal abuse among law enforcement families is greater or less than that which occurs in the average American home. If domestic violence within police families occurs at the same rate as the national average, Kirschman suggests that approximately 60,000 to 180,000 police households are affected.

A 1992 survey of 891 male officers revealed that 24% were “physically aggressive” towards their mates. A 1988 study of 425 couples reported that 41% of the officers and 34% of their spouses used “some form of physical violence in their marriages during the previous year.” Across 151 police departments surveyed in 1995, 28% of the agencies reported an increase in domestic violence (on and off-duty) among their officers. So, while it may be difficult and unpleasant to acknowledge, police families appear to be at moderately high risk for some form of domestic violence.



•Work assignment: Uniform patrol officers and narcotics officers had higher rates of domestic violence than those in other assignments. Narcotics officers were four times as likely to be physically violent at home than were officers working elsewhere.

•Working the midnight or swing shift.

•Working long hours-more than fifty hours per week - or taking no leave time.

•Sleep deprivation.

•Poor coping strategies such as “rugged individualism” or going it alone.

•Burnout and job dissatisfaction

•Using more than 19 days of sick leave.



•Cops are accustomed to using verbal and physical force or the threat of it to get citizens to do what they want.

•Refusal to comply is considered insubordination.

•Cops want to be in control.

•Policing is still a man's world filled with macho values.

•“Real men” ignore their feelings.

•Some officers, particularly those with low self-worth and high levels of job dissatisfaction, seek to rectify their professional problems by asserting their authority at home.

“Partner abuse occurs when one partner uses anger or force to intimidate the other and to control his or her behavior. Ask yourself: Am I afraid of my mate? Is my mate afraid of me? If you answer “Yes”, you should seek help.” (Kirschman, p.148)



Ellen Kirschman, Ph.D. suggests that most police officer domestic abuse can be best understood in one of the following three contexts. 1. Stress-Related Abuse - This type of abuse usually involves one act of violence that erupts in response to a crisis or some intense pressure such as an acute illness, death of family member, job loss, or even the birth of a baby. This violence is uncharacteristic, shocking and unacceptable to both partners, and is accompanied by appropriate remorse and responsibility - taking on the part of the offending spouse. The couple can generally benefit from marital or family counseling and the abuser learns some new coping skills.

2. Control-Related Abuse - This type of abuse is generally chronic and expresses itself in many different ways. The abuser tends to be emotionally immature, self-centered and needy, and not able or willing to assume appropriate responsibility for his/her actions. Abusive behaviors can include verbal abuse, intimidation, blaming, threatening, and physical assault when other coercive behaviors fail to achieve the desired result. Even common-range difficulties can provoke the spouse into a rage. This abuser has little sympathy or regard for his victim, who is probably feeling trapped and helpless in her situation. Dr. Kirschman observes that this couple will require a lot of professional help. Rather than couples' therapy, however, individual or same-sex group therapy is strongly recommended. These formats provide some necessary confrontation of the abuser and support/reality-testing for the abused spouse.

3. Special Circumstances - There is a type of abuse that occurs in families that is associated with severe mental disorders (e.g. PTSD, manic-depressive illness, psychotic depression, schizophrenia) alcohol addiction, and/or drug dependence. Each of these disorders may be characterized by an above average tendency towards violent behavior. While there may be some underlying reason for this kind of aggression, Dr. Kirschman reminds us that “it is the abuser's responsibility to control their own behavior and the victim's burden to keep themselves and their children safe.” (p.150) Clearly some professional help is mandatory to help the police officer and his/her family in these circumstances.



Dr. Kirschman reports that there are a variety of actions that law enforcement agencies can take to educate their officers about police domestic violence and to intervene when domestic abuse is suspected or reported in the officer's family relationships. Some of the following tactics are being used in departments around the country with varying degrees of success.

• Require officers involved in any police action to notify their command staff, thereby bringing offending officers who live in other jurisdictions to the attention of their departments.

• Investigate all allegations of domestic abuse: stalking, harassment, even complaints of pain without obvious bruising.

• Mandate any cop identified as a victim or perpetrator of misdemeanor domestic violence to receive counseling.

• File complaints of domestic abuse with internal affairs and use these as leverage to involve officers in counseling.

• Offer counseling: individual, family, couple, anger management, and same-sex group.

• Remove the offending officer's weapons, put them on light duty, fine, suspend, demote, place on probation, administrative leave, or restrict overtime until allegations are resolved.

• File administrative as well as criminal charges

• Utilize special domestic violence units to investigate complaints of officer-involved domestic abuse rather than leaving this to the cop's friends and beat partners.

• Provide protective custody to the victim, and take responsibility to prevent a repeat assault.



(Dr. Kirschman's suggestions to prevent and stop domestic violence in police families) • Establish a zero tolerance policy for violence of any sort in your family.

• Stop verbal abuse before it escalates

• Don't deny the abuse-name it for what it is.

• It is the abuser's responsibility to control his or her own behavior, even in stressful or provocative situations. Substance abuse is not an excuse for violence, it is a reason to seek treatment.

• Contact your local domestic violence advocate or women's center. They can provide you with shelter, legal advice, and psychological support. They may know who in your spouse's department is trustworthy and reliable. They will help you get an order of protection which, among other actions, may result in the judge ordering your spouse to surrender his or her firearm.

• Call your local domestic abuse hotline or the toll-free national hotline at 800-799-SAFE. These confidential services provide support and information.

• If your spouse's police department or other local authorities won't take action, go to the prosecuting attorney or another county for help. As a last resort, contact federal authorities for help in protecting your civil rights.

• Don't work with a therapist or advocate who insists that you must leave the relationship, that he or she knows what's best for you, or that you should discuss your issues, your anger, and so on to the exclusion of discussing your concerns about safety.

• If you fight back in defense, you take a risk that your abuser will retaliate with more violence, and you may be injured. Everyone's situation is different. Only you can decide.

Please note: All material appearing in bold-face type is quoted directly from Ellen Kirschman, Ph.D.'s book, "I Love A Cop: What Police Families Need To Know."


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