Forty Percent of Police Families Experience Domestic Violence, Compared to 10% in the General Population

By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at DownWithTyranny!

Police protecting the down-trodden from violence

If there’s any job that domestic abuse should disqualify a person from holding, it’s the one job that gives you a lethal weapon, trains you to stalk people without their noticing, and relies on your judgment and discretion to protect the abused from abusers.”
—Conor Friedersdorf here, slightly paraphrased

Protecting the abused from abusers is an important role in any society — or at least a sane society. It’s the role, in fact, of government itself, especially in an exploitive economic system like our own.

Capturing the organs of protection by the abusers themselves is therefore a high priority of the abusing class. This is why Reagan staffed his administration with people who hate the protective role government played, why he put anti-environmentalist James Watt in charge of Interior and the National Parks, and anti-regulationist Ann Gorsuch Burford in charge of the EPA. (Yes, she’s related to that other Gorsuch.)

And apparently why we put cops, domestic abusers at a very high rate, in charge of protecting victims of abuse.

Cops being in charge of abuse — delivering it — is a commonplace these days. Putting cops in charge of protecting people from abuse is like putting pedophiles in charge of public safety at a grade school, or pedophile priests in charge of youth ministry (we had one of those in a parish I once lived in).

Pedophiles love those jobs, just as cops love the jobs they’ve been given. How better to commit violence than to be the only sanctioned dealers of state violence, to be licensed to kill in the name of “protecting” the abused? You even get to parade around as “heroes” for doing it.

Conor Friedorsdorf, in an Atlantic article entitled “Police Have a Much Bigger Domestic-Abuse Problem Than the NFL Does,” quotes a heavily footnoted National Center for Women and Policing fact sheet: “Two studies have found that at least 40 percent of police officer families experience domestic violence, in contrast to 10 percent of families in the general population. A third study of older and more experienced officers found a rate of 24 percent, indicating that domestic violence is two to four times more common among police families than American families in general [emphasis added].” Friedersdorf’s piece is well worth reading in full.

I have anecdotal evidence of this connection. Some years ago a friend of mine was a psychiatric counselor specializing in troubled families. The bulk of her clients were cop families, where the cop was the abuser. She attributes the problem to the pathological (my word) need for control by the cop — reinforced, no doubt, by a job in which “gaining and keeping control” was both an absolute requirement of every cop-involved situation, and by supervisors who encouraged or allowed the worse abuses of that requirement.

We don’t hire pedophiles to guard grade school kids. Why do we hire violent cops to keep the peace? Is there something in us that’s perpetuating this?

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  1. Tomonthebeach

    Domestic violence, spouse and/or child abuse, is quite common in both police and military professions. As for the 40% figure, that surely seems to be an exaggeration. The figure is likely based on lifetime experience reports – not annual data. Past VA surveys generally find about 40% of veteran respondents report lifetime experience as a perpetrator or victim of domestic violence. So let’s just accept the this is a noteworthy problem in contrast to other lines of work.

    The problem in both fields is that physical violence is part of the job. But what is it that causes some cops (and soldiers) to engage in excessive violence both at home and at work? My speculation is that brutal cops are easily enraged. When people are enraged, their powers of reasoning are overwhelmed by emotion leading to inappropriate violence.

    I guarantee that coworkers know who the bad actors are that are easily enraged on the job. They just conform to the code of silence, which lets bad actors continue to brutalize perps and family members until somebody gets killed – and apparently – not even then sometimes. But if supervisors look the other way when a subordinate has been the subject of a domestic violence call or co-workers are overheard complaining about excessive force, they are perpetuating a dangerous organizational culture.

    1. anon45

      Protecting the abused from abusers is an important role in any society — or at least a sane society. It’s the role, in fact, of government itself, especially in an exploitive economic system like our own. Thomas Neuberger

      Then it follows that economic injustice, since it increases the ability to exploit others, should be abolished.

      Why then do many, and this includes MMT advocates, insist TINA to government privileges for usurers, aka “the banks”? Why support systematic injustice?

  2. Alex

    The number is so astonishing that I looked at the original article which is based on a 1990 survey of a few hundred Arizona (presumably) cops and their spouses. The article doesn’t really discuss how representative this sample is of the whole police force at that time, and obviously things might have changed in 30 years.

    Maybe the results will hold if someone does a new study with a better sample, but I think that this study alone does not justify such a sweeping statement.

    1. JohnM

      i was more surprised by the other end of the headline – 1 out of 10 men beat their wives/girlfriends? maybe the violence is pretty broadly defined?

  3. ACF

    Police reproduce the social order. They are hired by those atop the social order to protect and serve them, in large part by controlling the bottom of the social order, forcing those people to stay in the bottom of the social order. So there’s a certain inherent preference for people who can do that, as a matter of personality. But beyond that, it’s important to consider PTSD. The police have to live in the world they are taught to envision and enforce, and it’s a very ugly world, and their actions (whether directly or through their participating in hiding ‘brothers’ actions) damage themselves as well as their victims. I’m sure that domestic violence isn’t the only place their trauma shows; I’ll bet they’re disproportionately alcoholics too. Note: I’m not saying, oh poor police, we need to pity them, but any truly comprehensive approach to overhauling policing will also support officer mental health, and facilitate removing officers from the force who shouldn’t be there, for mental health reasons.

    1. Tomonthebeach

      Good point. Again, there is a strong parallel between the mental health of cops and soldiers. My rage hypothesis seemed confirmed by the Atlanta slaying in that the officer most likely to face injury – the chaser – was not the shooter. The shooter was the other cop in the scuffle. Anyone who watched the video could tell the chasing cop was in no peril. In fact, the perp was also drunk and only armed with a taser. In my mind, rage is the most likely explanation for shooting.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Thats an excellent point. I was looking at a clip a few days ago of cops and what struck me is that all the males seemed to have been squeezed out of an identikit mould – kinda jabba the hutt shape, just with more muscle. I know plenty of heavy gym and protein user guys who don’t have that body shape, so its pretty credible that there is a high level of ‘roid rage among police. Or maybe its just donut poisoning.

    2. Tomonthebeach

      Steroids do have a long history of enabling rage – i.e., easily triggered anger and physical violence. I wonder if they give shooters a blood test. If so, the steroid angle would be easy to examine.

      1. HotFlash

        A quick search indicates that police are drug-tested as part of the hiring process, then many forces have routine annual or more frequent tests. Some depts test for drugs and/or alcohol on occassion as well –eg, pursuit, collision, shooting, seeming impaired –, and some have random tests, eg for the cops on narcotics. Other depts are restricted in when/what they test for, and the Pittsburgh police association (the union) is apparently wants to get all tests banned. I was not able to find out what drugs were tested for, though. Toronto does drug test, there was a recent kerfluffle re testing cops for cannabis, which is now legal, or at least not illegal. However, last I knew, steroids were not tested for although some at least one case I knew of was a cop known to his buddies as a ‘roid user and particularly aggressive (via a cop in the same district who was dating a friend of mine decades ago).

        The info that George Floyd ‘had hard drugs in his system’ was reported pretty quickly. I would be very interested to know whether Derek Chauvin did or not.

  4. The Rev Kev

    For police, suicide is also an occupational hazard as well as alcoholism. But I imagine for the spouses that it is harder. If they are beat up by their police partner, who do they go to for help? The police? Where can they go that their partner cannot use the resources that they have access to to find them? What if that police partner seeks to have their spouse committed to a mental facility. Who is going to doubt the word of a cop? No happy immediate answers here.

  5. Bob Haugen

    Consider also the personality types who are attracted to the job of policing. When I was in high school, way long time ago, the students who went into the police force were the petty criminals.

    1. Elizabeth

      Yes, I was thinking the same thing. It would be interesting to find out what “personality types” are attracted to policing. Of course, now, there are a lot of ex-military combat veterans who become cops who suffer from PTSD, which in my opinion, is not such a good idea.. .

      1. Mike Elwin

        Psychotherapists will tell you that police and other first responders have a higner-than-normal history of being abused as children. They become rigidly controlling, hoping that their control over themselves will harbor them from further abuse. When they grow up, they gravitate towards jobs that allow them to extend their control to wider, more protective spheres.

        Disrupting their control, such as when a spouse or citizen behaves contrary to the responders’ rules, produces rage because, psychologically, it strips away the responder’s own protection against his/her abuse.

        And, yes, their jobs subject them to PTSD, which causes them to rely on controlling themselves and their environment even more.

  6. ObjectiveFunction

    Yup, the two brothers who used to lie in wait for scrawny teenage me on my paper route (which I had to do) later became… wait for it….

    I have known some thoroughly decent state troopers though.

  7. Matthew Saroff

    As an FYI, a friend of mine who is a counselor, stated that the overwhelming majority of police who have been on the job for more than 5 years have some level of PTSD.

    And they carry guns most of the time, which is not reassuring.

  8. David

    As noted above, the story is actually worthless, but the headline does at least act as a kind of Rorschach test to sort the sceptics (“that sounds remarkably high, what’s the source?”) from the credulous (“ah yes, that doesn’t surprise me at all.”)
    The fact is that the police in any society are part of the social membrane that keeps ordinary citizens away from the harshest realities of everyday life. Front-line medical personnel and social workers are in much the same situation. These groups deal, all day, every day, with the worst and most disgusting features of our society, and it eventually rubs off, in the form of stress, alcoholism and violence. (In France, for example, the suicide rate among police officers is secondly only to that of farmers, and has been growing rapidly). But as far as I know, there’s no country where psychological problems among the police are really taken seriously.
    At bottom, it’s a class thing. The police were traditionally drawn from the brighter working-class and lower-middle-class communities, and treated as mercenaries and factotums by the middle classes, who want someone to collect up all the rubbish from the economic system from which the middle classes principally benefit.

    1. Basil Pesto

      At bottom, it’s a class thing. The police were traditionally drawn from the brighter working-class and lower-middle-class communities, and treated as mercenaries and factotums by the middle classes, who want someone to collect up all the rubbish from the economic system from which the middle classes principally benefit.

      Indeed, the ACAB sloganeering, besides not being as radical as its users seem to think it is (hell, I could probably get my boomer Dad to go along with the sentiment), and playing on my disdain for absolutism and essentialism, has always seemed to have a whiff of classism about it. Perhaps more divide and conquer (which of course goes both ways)?

  9. Trisha

    I worked for 2 years as IT Tech support for the East Palo City PD, in an open-plan office where I could overhear everything, and as a veteran was over time provisionally accepted as a member of their tribe (I wasn’t), did ride-alongs, etc.

    Having been bullied as a child, I recognized two types in the force: outright bullies (easy to spot), and those who had been bullied (less easy to spot). Both types were addicted to the adrenal rush of dominating suspects, and they often referred to the Motor Vehicle Code as the cop’s best friend in justifying stops that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred. And yes, the “good cops” never informed on, or otherwise turned on the “bad cops” for their unlawful and downright disgusting behavior. Thus from my point of view, all cops are bad cops, at least until such time as the “band of brothers” warrior ethos is dissolved and we see “good” cops turned around.

    Most surprisingly, the few black officers turned out to be as racist, if not more so, than their white brethern.

  10. LawnDart

    There are nearly 18,000 individual, independent, law enforcement agencies in the US, each with their own policies, practices, and scope of duties. These agencies account for approximately 800,000 sworn officers: that’s a lot of flavors to choose from.

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