It remains an open secret that police domestic abuse is a widespread and deeply entrenched problem.
The consequences of police violence are indelible. It impacts communities large and small nationwide. Large because police violence is seen publicly, small because research data suggests a connection between police violence on the job and police domestic violence at home. Indeed, cops and domestic violence have a strong relationship. As Black Lives Matter protests happened last summer, video after video showed law enforcement going after unarmed civilians — shoving, punching, using tear gas, rubber bullets, and in some cases, using live ammunition against civilian populations. What wasn’t seen was what cops do at home.
In Louisville, local businessman and community leader David McAtee was shot and killed by law enforcement at a protest over the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Add that to the fact that, so often, police can get away with nearly murder, accountability and justice in the public sphere, and in the private sphere, when police domestic violence happens in the home, doesn’t seem achievable.
There are those who argue that the police can be trusted always to act in the public interest, protecting and serving the innocent. Surely many do, but research into the private lives of cops suggests that that faith in the restraint of police officers on the job is founded at least in part on men who abuse their wives and children. And what percent of cops are domestic abusers is conspicuously quite high.
Though data on police domestic violence is not only notoriously difficult to gather but also skewed by a culture of silence and intimidation, it suggests that police officers in the United States perpetrate acts of domestic violence at roughly 15 times the rate of the general population. Because officers tend to protect their own, domestic victims of violent cops often don’t know where to go. Sometimes they reach out to Alex Roslin, author of Police Wife: The Secret Epidemic of Police Domestic Violence, the American Society of Journalists and Authors-award-winning book that constitutes perhaps the only major work on this subject.
“I get emails that would make your hair crawl,” says Roslin, a Canadian freelance journalist who came to the issue two decades ago after a friend working with survivors of abuse informed him police wives and biker gang spouses constituted the bulk of her patient population, suggesting a hidden epidemic of police domestic abuse.
Indeed, police domestic abuse, Roslin points out, is an open secret. In 1991, sociologist Leonor Johnson presented to the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families, suggesting that 360,000 of the then 900,000 law enforcement officers in the U.S. were likely perpetrating acts of abuse. After a Los Angeles Police Department officer murdered his wife and committed suicide in the late 1990s, a review of domestic abuse allegations brought against officers showed that between 1990 and 1997, 227 alleged cases of domestic violence were brought against police officers, only 91 were sustained and only four resulted in the conviction of criminal charges. Of the four convictions, only one officer was suspended from duty. He was asked to take three weeks off.
For many, cops remain heroes. But the law enforcement culture lionized by reactionaries is also a culture of silence antithetical to the values of most partners and parents. Fatherly spoke to Alex Roslin about the extent of the police domestic violence problem and why it persists.
The numbers in your book are absolutely shocking. In particular, the number 15 is shocking. You support the claim that abuse is roughly 15 times more pervasive within police families than in the general population. Where does that come from?
The major study here was done by a police officer and a sociologist in Tucson, Arizona, working with a collaborator who had studied domestic violence in military families. It wasn’t by the police department officially. That study found that 40 percent of cops reported having participated in domestic violence in the previous year. The researchers questioned spouses and officers separately with anonymous questions and came up with strikingly similar figures.
An FBI advisory board later found that roughly 40 percent of officers who filled out questionnaires in a number of different settings admitted to being physically violent with their spouse in the previous six months. The general population data for self-reported abuse is closer to 4 percent when people are asked to report on the last 12 months.
The numbers are higher for cops who work night shifts.
It’s worth noting that the sample sizes are a bit small and that these are older studies. Given the potential scale of the crisis, it’s bizarre that there wouldn’t be more available numbers.
The 40 percent number is the closest I could figure while trying to do an apple to apple comparison. We know for sure that the rate of domestic violence among cops from the little data we have is ridiculously high. We know that thanks to research done in part by police officers, some of whom suggest that number might be low. So we wind up with cops being around 15 times more likely to engage in domestic violence than members of the general population. [Editor’s Note: The comparison here is based on 1.5 to 4 percent of U.S. and Canadian women reporting domestic violence by a partner and an estimate that 6 to 14 percent of children are abused each year. These numbers vary because data is based largely on incidents and self-reporting.]
We should consider why the data is nonexistent or decades old. Why is no one looking at a massive issue of public interest? I’ve been working on updating my book for a third edition. Doing research I’ve found 40 examples of cops in the United States murdering their spouses. That’s over just three years.
Is there data available on the children of cops? Is there any reason to believe that abuse doesn’t extend beyond partner violence?
Sadly, I’ve seen no data on that, but anecdotally… I’ve heard a lot of stories. It’s not just police partners that face abuse. It’s children. There have been a lot of reports of that and it makes sense.
It’s a broad question, but unavoidable: Why is this happening?
Abuse is an open secret among police officers. Many officers claim that it’s the result of a stressful job. But in my research and in talking to domestic violence researchers, it becomes clear that stress doesn’t really cause abuse. There are lots of stressful jobs. Paramedics and surgeons and firefighters don’t have this kind of problem.
The more honest officers will tell you that policing is a job about control — controlling people and controlling chaotic environments. It attracts people with that mentality and that desire. Not all police officers are the same, but the more authoritarian police officers are the more likely they are to be violent at home.
These men aren’t losing control. They are maintaining control. That’s different.
That’s a disturbing idea because it suggests a strong connection between domestic violence and public violence. Do you see a strong link there?
The reality is that police are being put into places in society where they are supposed to be in control, but we have both movements toward recognizing the rights of more groups — notably women and minorities — and also more inequality than ever. Maintaining control in that environment becomes extremely taxing. My fear is that this is trending the wrong way. When police are protecting this kind of status quo, you’re going to see more domestic violence, not less.
The inequalities of society force us to empower the police. And that empowerment results in the hiring of abusers. Police domestic violence is a mirror held up to our society. Who polices an unequal and violent society?
Are there causes beyond the desire for control? It feels like that impulse would be tempered by the proximity of… law enforcement officers. Is it not?
No. Cops get away with it. Anthony Bouza, a one-time commander in the New York Police Department and former police chief of Minneapolis, said that ‘The Mafia never enforced its code of blood-sworn omerta with the ferocity, efficacy, and enthusiasm the police bring to the Blue Code of Silence.” That’s reflected in the rates at which violence is reported and the degree to which there are consequences.
What happens to partners abused by the police?
In general, these women are terrified. Normally, domestic violence survivors are not in a good place. But these women know the cop has a gun and knows how to commit violence without leaving a mark and they say, “Everyone will think you’re crazy.” And she can’t necessarily go to a shelter because he knows where they are.
Some of these women contact me. I’m a freelance journalist in Canada. I’m happy to do what I can to help, but why is there no one else?
You’re a father. What do you tell your kids about the police? How do you talk to them about law enforcement given what you know and given your work?
My daughters know what I do. They know what I’m writing about. My wife has two uncles who are retired officers. We live in a small town and a former police officer is now the mayor and lives down the street. Police officers are humans. At the same time, my kids know that there is a darker side to policing.
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you can’t have it both ways. You can argue that all of the chaos is part of Trump’s strategy. But you can’t cherry-pick the chaos you like and claim the media is making up the rest.
.. I’ve talked to people in the White House. I’ve talked to congressmen and senators off the record. And I’ve talked to far more people who’ve talked to such people. They all say that things behind the scenes in Trump World are nuttier than Mr. Peanut’s stool sample.
.. Just this week, the president’s body man was ejected from the White House on a freezing cold day, and he wasn’t even allowed to get his coat (presumably, he knows stuff — because he was instantly hired by the Trump reelection campaign).
Trump fired his secretary of State over Twitter.
Roll back the clock another week or two, and you have the sudden resignation of Hope Hicks and the revelation that Rob Porter couldn’t get a security clearance because of credible allegations that he was an abusive husband.
I can’t remember the last time Trump humiliated his attorney general, but it feels like we’re due. There was also some stuff about executing drug dealers and calling Chuck Todd a son of a b****. Oh, and there was that stuff about how trade wars are good.
.. Trump loves controversy but hates confrontation. That’s why he wants to force Sessions to quit
- That’s why he fired James Comey while the FBI director was giving a speech in California, and it’s why he wanted to
- fire Rex Tillerson while the secretary of State was in Africa.
- .. when Democrats are in the room, Trump tells them he’d go for comprehensive immigration reform and preens about how he’d like to “take the guns first, go through due process second.”
.. Recently, people close to Mr. Trump say that he has begun to feel more confident that he understands the job of president. He is relying more on his own instincts, putting a premium on his personal chemistry with people and their willingness to acknowledge that his positions are ultimately administration policy, rather than on their résumé or qualifications for the job.
My friend and chicken-wing consultant Steve Hayes argues that Pompeo is in fact “the real Trump whisperer.” He reports:
“I’ve seen a dozen times when Pompeo has talked the president out of one of his crazy ideas,” says a senior administration official involved in the national security debates.
Let that sink in. It’s not quite as reassuring as it sounds. If Haberman is right, then even if Pompeo had success in the past constraining Trump, he might not be able to going forward, given how Trump is more inclined to let his freak flag fly.
.. One of the great divides on the right these days is over the question of whether the policy wins of the Trump administration occurred because of Trump or despite him.
With the possible exception of Ted Cruz, I don’t think any other Republican would have
- moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem,
- opened ANWR to drilling, or
- pulled out of the Paris climate accords and
- TPP (though I think the TPP move was a mistake).
Most of Trump’s policy successes, however, have been accomplished thanks to party and movement regulars in the administration and in Congress
- Judicial appointments have been outsourced to the Federalist Society and Mitch McConnell, thank God.
- Tax reform was Paul Ryan’s baby.
I am generally baffled when people say, “He’s gotten so much accomplished.” From where I sit, so much has been accomplished despite him.
He also gets “credit” for the fire sale of conservative credibility on countless conservative positions and arguments
.. The GOP’s tax-cut message did not have the salience Republicans hoped
.. Trump is increasingly toxic in normally Republican-friendly suburbs. His rallies may energize the GOP base — but they energize Democrats more.
.. Many of his preferred policies and most of his antics divide Republicans, while they unite Democrats.
.. Let’s also assume Mueller doesn’t find evidence of “collusion” that directly implicates Trump but that he does find enough to land Jared, Don Jr., and Michael Cohen in the dock. Paul Manafort is already looking at spending more than two centuries in jail.
What happens when
- Democrats get subpoena power? What happens when
- they start drafting articles of impeachment? What happens if
- Mueller reveals that Trump isn’t really as rich as he claims and that
- his business is mostly a Potemkin village of money-laundering condo sales? What happens
- if Stormy Daniels — or the retinue of super-classy ladies reportedly looking to follow her lead — releases embarrassing pictures of the president?
How do you think unconstrained Hulk Trump reacts? Heck, how do you think the beleaguered skeleton crew at the White House behaves? Everyone is gonna lawyer up
Normal administrations are crippled by zealous investigatory committees; is it so crazy to think that Donald Trump might not show restraint?
Might he be tempted to give the Democrats the store to hold off investigations, impeachment, whatever? Everyone defends the Jerry Falwell Jr. caucus on the grounds that they have a “transactional” relationship with Trump. Well, what if other transactional opportunities take precedence?
.. in the next couple of years, a tsunami of tell-all books and more-in-sorrow-than-anger reputation-rehabilitating memoirs will probably come out.
.. “character is destiny.” And I’ve never been more confident that that destiny is coming, and it won’t be pretty.
The relentless chaos has prompted some senior officials to leave the administration in recent weeks. The latest is Rachel Brand, the number three official at the Justice Department, who resigned on Friday to join Wal-Mart, telling friends that she was concerned that her association with the Trump administration could hurt her reputation.
“She is very smart, accomplished, and talented, and wants to protect her career,” said one Brand associate.
.. The list largely consisted of portfolio reassignments and title changes, doing little to allay concerns that Kelly has been unable to recruit fresh faces to replace senior officials who have left.
.. Even though he was previously aware of some of the allegations facing his staff secretary, Kelly’s allies say he didn’t fully understand the severity of the issue until he saw photographs of one of Porter’s ex-wives with a bruised eye. White House aides also assert that Kelly and other top officials felt misled by Porter’s own defense against the allegations.
President Trump’s week ended with the sudden departure of a speechwriter who had been accused of brutally attacking his wife, the president’s defense of another staffer who allegedly assaulted two ex-wives
.. The president learned at a very early age that what humiliates, damages, even destroys others can actually strengthen his image and therefore his bottom line.
.. The White House lets it be known that Kelly is in the doghouse. Yet the president himself goes out of his way to speak publicly in defense of the ousted aide, without so much as a nod toward what the women have suffered.
1) Always double down on your position.
Trump has regularly argued in favor of men on his side who’ve been accused of bad behavior against women, whether that was
- Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama;
- Fox News figures Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly; last week’s case du jour,
- Rob Porter; or
- Trump himself. He weathered the “Access Hollywood” tape that many of his aides thought would sink his campaign, and he successfully batted away
- allegations from more than a dozen women that he was guilty of sexual misconduct toward them.
Saturday morning, the president tripled down. “Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” he tweeted. “There is no recovery for someone falsely accused — life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”
2) The president must always be the focus of attention. Aides who get too big for their britches won’t be around for long.
.. Whether or not Kelly leaves, he has been knocked down several notches, especially in the public’s view. He’s been shown who’s boss, in case he had harbored any doubts.
Trump, contrary to the caricature he fostered on his reality TV show, “The Apprentice,” rarely excommunicates close aides forever. They almost all remain in his orbit even if he has publicly humiliated them or sent them off for a long vacation.
.. But they must always learn that those who attempt to grab some of the limelight will be dealt with.
.. When erstwhile chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon made the cover of Time — for Trump still a vital marker of making it big, even as the magazine’s influence has severely waned — he was done for, at least for now.
.. He learned in the 1970s from his mentor Roy Cohn that when you face criticism, justified or not, “you tell them to go to hell and fight the thing,” as Cohn said.
.. Trump instead leaned hard on the accelerator, ratcheting up his rhetoric, pressing for a convention lineup that doubled down on appealing to his base — Willie Robertson of “Duck Dynasty,” the chief of Ultimate Fighting Championship, music by Southern, white classic rock acts.
.. In the 1980s, Trump not only didn’t push back when tabloid newspapers turned the collapse of his first marriage into a daily soap opera; Trump actively participated in the scripting of the drama, calling gossip writers, dishing out salacious morsels almost by the hour.
.. “The show is Trump,” he said then, “and it is sold-out performances everywhere.”
.. Trump had discovered in painting oneself as the rich celebrity ordinary Americans aspire to be.
Obama called it “the unfounded optimism of the average American — ‘I may not be Donald Trump now, but just you wait; if I don’t make it, my children will.’ ”
.. he recognized that bad behavior and the notoriety it generated didn’t undermine that image. For many people, it actually enhanced it.
.. visionary business leaders succeed “because they are narcissists who devote their talent with unrelenting focus to achieving their dreams, even if it’s sometimes at the expense of those around them.”