Police show willingness to intervene when other cops commit domestic violence

Karen Oehme, director of the Institute for Family Violence Studies at Florida State’s College of Social Work.
Karen Oehme, director of the Institute for Family Violence Studies at Florida State’s College of Social Work.

While much has been made about the “blue wall of silence” among police officers, a new study found that police officers don’t turn a blind eye when other officers perpetrate domestic violence.

In such cases, police officers are most inclined to obtain a detailed history of the violence, link victims with domestic violence programs and encourage them to file a formal report, according to researchers at Florida State University and the University of Michigan. The study was published in the Journal of Family Violence.

“We were encouraged to see that officers made help for the victim their highest priority,” said Daniel Saunders, a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work and the study’s lead author. “We were also encouraged that officers were oriented to the facts of the case rather than being influenced by their personal traits.”

In 1999, as a response to the special safety concerns for victims of officers’ abuse, the International Association of Chiefs of Police created a model policy for police departments to follow. However, little research has been done on the topic.

Saunders collaborated on the study with FSU doctoral student Stephanie Grace Prost and Karen Oehme, director of the Institute for Family Violence Studies at Florida State’s College of Social Work. They asked more than 1,100 police officers to respond to two case scenarios of police officers stalking or assaulting their spouses.

“Arrest became a likely response after officers were asked to imagine they witnessed a victim’s injuries and heard the victim say she’d been choked by her partner,” Saunders said.

Officers’ next most common response was to refer the offending officer for help, specifically to an employee assistance program or mental health counselor and, to a lesser extent, to the department chaplain.

Such referrals are useful but raised some concerns, Prost said.

“Employee assistance programs rarely have special services for domestic abuse offenders, and chaplains are not usually trained to respond to domestic abuse,” she said. “Referrals for couples counseling are also a concern — severe cases need to be screened out and the focus needs to be on the violence.”

Professional characteristics, such as being a supervisor, more consistently determined officers’ responses than personal characteristics such as age, ethnicity, race, gender and marital status.

“Police supervisors had more responses supporting victims than front-line officers, suggesting to us that they may be very qualified to train the front-line officers in their departments,” Oehme said.

Although officers responded to written case scenarios rather than actual cases, the researchers said that such scenarios are usually good measures of behavioral tendencies.

The study, “Responses of Police Officers to Cases of Officer Domestic Violence: Effects of Demographic and Professional Factors,” is one of a series of studies on the National Prevention Toolkit on Officer-Involved Domestic Violence, sponsored by the Verizon Foundation and located at the Institute for Family Violence Studies at Florida State University.