An officer chimes in on domestic violence and policing…

I am a police officer in a good-sized urban city. Melanie asked me to guest post on Deliberate Donkey from that perspective and I’ve been trying to write a good post for two weeks now.

In part because I like Melanie and respect her story so much, I was  probably overly critical of the earlier posts I’ve scrapped. They weren’t terrible drafts, but they weren’t me. I was trying to write what I thought Melanie and you, her regular followers, wanted to hear instead of just writing what I felt like writing so they sounded forced. I’m just going to write as I do on my own blog, and that’s with some cold beer by my side typing whatever comes to me.

If asked in a poll, there are many victims of domestic violence who would tell you that they had a wonderful experience with law enforcement and are forever grateful that a certain officer or group of officers helped them to escape their former life.

There are also many, and maybe it’s a lot larger number of people, who would tell you that they had a terrible experience with law enforcement and that their treatment by police made them feel diminished, slighted, foolish, defeated, pick your negative feeling and I’m sure it fits.

I work for a department that encourages education and offers ample opportunities for officers to continue learning the best ways to approach different situations, including domestic violence related incidents.

When I started the police academy I was 25 years old, and had you asked me on my first day what I thought about domestic violence, I’d have said that it wasn’t something I’d ever thought about, really. I assumed then that domestic violence was something that happened primarily in trailer parks or in relationships where one or both of the parties was uneducated and probably a heavy drinker.

There was quite a bit of training regarding domestic violence in the police academy. I remember a lot of role-playing exercises being involved as well as a talk from a woman who had dealt with being a victim of domestic violence.

The woman’s name was Elizabeth and she worked for an organization in the area that helps people in abusive relationships.  I don’t recall all of the intimate details of her story, but I remember that she was not white trash, not uneducated and she was very passionate about domestic violence and how important law enforcement was to the process. She had gone through a period of mental and then physical abuse before she was finally able to separate from her abuser, but he would still threaten her from time to time. He would damage her car, send her nasty letters, call her all the time and then finally, he killed her beloved German Shepard dog.

I was disgusted at this man but I remember a part of me thinking to myself, “why didn’t you leave him much earlier, lady?” She may have answered that question, but I don’t remember what she said, if she did. As I type that thought now, I feel ashamed that I even insinuated that she was part of the problem, but I was young and had not experience with the problem at that point.

I was busy trying to get out of the academy, so that was my main concern at the time. With the committment and worries that went along with that, I soon forgot Elizabeth’s story and moved on with my life as a police officer.

It didn’t take long to go from believing that I could make a difference in many peoples’ lives to losing faith in humanity. It’s hard to describe why police officers become jaded so quickly, but for me it was just being worn down by always dealing with the same people over and over again, none of whom were doing anything to better their lives. Drug addicts, prostitutes, thieves, robbers, litter bugs, and the other law breakers on one day were the people calling the police for help the next. It’s tough to be to concerned about a known drug dealer who calls to report a burglary in his apartment of his ill-gotten television set and Playstation device. It sounds petty, but it happens every day and it begins to add up and wear on many of us.

The problem as it relates to not only domestic violence victims, but victims of other crimes as well, is that some police officers are either unable to distinguish or maybe don’t care to distinguish, between a real victim and a person who is just jobbing the system.

Let’s narrow the issue down to domestic violence specifically.

Part of the problem with policing in a big city, which is what I’m familiar with, is that law enforcement has asked people to call about every little thing and callers have come to expect police to arrive for even the most mundane of calls as quickly as possible. The problem with quick response to calls is that oftentimes, the officer in a particular beat is not available to respond, so an officer from a different area is sent instead. While speed is important in many instances, the problem is that the area officer doesn’t know what’s going on in his area as well as he would if he were getting most of the calls.

With respect to repeated domestic calls for service, an officer not familiar with a victim wouldn’t know when a person doesn’t seem herself because he’s never dealt with her before. If the same officer is always sent to the same house, however, the officer would have a better feel for when a victim isn’t acting right and might be more proactive in trying to get to the root of the problem.

The biggest problem with police response to domestic situations is that we’re human beings. I think a lot of people are under the mistaken impression that police officers are a certain way and that we don’t have feelings or are something that we’re really not.  We’re just like you and we make mistakes at work just like everybody else does.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work around and with a great group of men and women officers in my time, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more than a few on my own force who are lazy, uncommitted or just plain don’t know any better. If you think about the power we give police officers and the amount of information we expect them to know, it’s mind-boggling that they are some of the lowest paid people in society and more education isn’t expected of them.

Many officers working the streets in this country have essentially a high school education and not much more. While it doesn’t take a degree to make a person a better police officer, the lower standards invite people who have no business being police officers right into the field.

A woman beaten by her husband may call 911 and get any number of police officers showing up to her door step. She may get a female officer who was perhaps once herself the victim of domestic abuse and makes it her mission to help women she knows are battered find the help they need. In larger cities, the resources seem to be there, but most people don’t know about them. An officer willing to at least give a woman legitimate options where she didn’t know there were any can be a great starting point for an abuse victim.

Another woman might get an officer at her door who doesn’t really understand domestic violence because he didn’t get adequate training. That officer may listen to the abuser’s side of the story and just chalk the fight up to the couple having a bad night without doing anything further and leaving the woman in a dangerous situation that’s just been made worse by a police officer showing up at the couple’s house. While inadvertent, the officer has set this woman up for further abuse and no options to get out of the situation she’s in.

Still another woman, let’s say in a smaller town may get an officer who knows the abuser as a buddy or former school friend and find herself frustrated even more than when she called for help.

There are so many scenarios that may play out to help describe why it could be that so many different women have such a variety of experiences with law enforcement and how the police helped or failed them that it’s maddening.

Domestic violence calls are hard to handle from a law enforcement point of view. It’s not always easy to know who’s telling the truth, and when a person isn’t willing to be honest about whether or not she was hit or is scared or wants to get away, even though it’s because she really is scared, there are too many reasons why an officer would miss a cue and the woman left in the abusive relationship loses more hope.

Some officers need to hear that you want to be helped because they don’t understand that you asked for help just by calling 911. It’s not easy to sort out a fight in front of screaming kids and when there’s alcohol or drugs involved, it just makes matters worse.

No officer wants to see anybody hurt or killed. When we can’t help everybody most of us would do our best to help protect the most vulnerable, such as the elderly, kids and whether it sounds condescending or not, women. It’s no secret that most men are stronger than most women, and there isn’t a police officer I know who hasn’t wanted to take an abuser to a dark alley and do to him what the system so often won’t, but we can’t do that anymore.

Officers want to help, but not all officers are created equal. You’re deserving of respect and at least minimally competent police service, even if that’s nothing more than a reference to a shelter or organization that can help you, make sure that you come away with something before you let one bad officer cause you to lose hope altogether.

I rambled a bit and I’m sorry for that. I hope that if you take nothing else from this post, you remember that if you’re a victim and feel let down by a police officer, don’t feel let down by the police generally. Try to find help from somebody in the department or go to a larger state patrol department, if that’s an option, but please do something. If you’re reading this post, then you’re surrounded by people who understand what you’re going through and who I know would be willing to help you out with some advice.

I know I was all over the place here and wish I could start all over to do a better post, but it’s late and I owe Melanie a post. I promise to check back on the comments and answer any questions you may have. I can also be contacted via email. It was not my intention to be an apologist for law enforcement here at all. I know that many women have been let down by a police officer’s response, and I know how deflating that must be.

About The Author

DonI am Don. I know a little about a lot of things but have mastered nothing. I’m not ashamed of that. I’ve wanted to learn so many different things, but I get into something and then, like a three year old distracted by a bouncing ball, I quickly find another thing that demands my attention. I can do many things half-assed. I can homebrew beer, cook, be your lawyer, put in a new ceiling fan…on and on, but NONE of it comes guaranteed.

Advertisements

30 comments

  1. Thank you for stepping out of your element and coming over here for a day. I am glad you have added your voice to the conversation.

    1. My pleasure, Melanie. Anytime I can do something for you, just ask. Go Cards!! Though I’m not feeling that confident at this point…

      1. The way I see it, we were being polite and not shutting the Dodgers out…so long as it doesn’t happen again.
        I know this kind of writing takes you out of your humor comfort zone, but you do it well.

  2. Thank you, Melanie and Don. The more voices, the more clear each becomes, and that means that more people can hear the message.

    1. Agreed! I had so much more to say, but it was getting out of hand so I cut myself off.

      1. Maybe organize it into a series? For use on hers or your own site? It could also be a short e-book. Just thinking…

    2. Thank you Patti. I was glad Don was willing to lend his words here.

  3. Thank you for a different perspective. I too think police officers should be required to take domestic violence trainings. I do understand that not all law enforcement, judges, attorneys, GAL’s are created equal. And couldn’t agree more that our law enforcement requirements should be amped up and paid more for the job we as the public expect them to perform. Hopefully with officers like you willing to admit you are human, and the willingness to educate yourself and others it’s a start to a conversation that needs to be heard.

    1. It makes a big difference. There is nothing worse than standing in front of a person with a problem and being able to say nothing more than I don’t know how to help you because you’re not trained well enough or because your area doesn’t have resources or whatever. I’ve been pretty lucky in that my department is gung ho on training and trying to put the best officers possible on the streets. I like to think that the department is lucky to have me and officers like me as well though. I’ve almost left a few times over the years for better opportunities, but I’ve stuck around.

  4. Thanks so much for writing this. I was helped by law enforcement. The cop that helped me was amazing and I wish I was able to say thank you again (can’t say so much for the judge but that’s a another story). Again, I wish there were more cops like you in my area-you have a deep understanding and ability to see things in a way that I haven’t thought about. I generally dislike the police ( In my case there are always there when I dont want them and never there when I need them) but I do understand that they have a job that I would never be able to do and for that I have much respect.
    Question: Does your area have a Domestic Violence Response Team? This is something that I just learned about in NJ and was wondering if it was a country wide program or just dependent on the state?

    1. Abby, we have a specialized unit called the Domestic Assault Response Team. Much like the Homicide Unit handles only homicides, DART only does domestic incidents. They don’t handle each and every call, but they’d know better when repeat calls are being made to certain addresses and have the time that street officers don’t to follow up with victims and make sure that they’re getting the help they need. We also work closely with some local organizations that assist abuse victims. Every victim is at least given a card that has helpful numbers and places they can stay the night, etc. It’s been an ongoing process, but it’s getting better.

      1. thats amazing. Here our response team is citizen volunteers that sit with the victim only AFTER they are in the police station. They just give the victim information about services and do a follow up. I wanted to join but have found out that because of my felony charge (bc of my abuser) I do not qualify…lovely…only 4 more years till I can get that expunged!
        Thanks for sharing!

  5. I admire you for writing this from a police officer’s perception. As average citizens, it’s easy to forget that you guys don’t always know what to do. I think it’s a really important point to remember no matter what it is that we need you for.
    While I do not have personal experience with abuse, my good friend was abused by her long-term boyfriend for years. I remember being so frustrated when she kept going back to him. He’d make her watch him have sex with other women in her bed. In her house. That she paid for because he didn’t work. It was awful. Needless to say, once she finally did decide to break it off with him and I helped her to get a restraining order against him, the police that helped us were amazingly supportive. Also, after he broke the restraining order and was found HIDING IN HER CLOSET, the police that came were also wonderful. He eventually left her alone but I can say that the police she dealt with were helpful and knowledgable. Really great post, Don. And Hi, Melanie!

    1. Hi Kristi! Thank you for reading. And thank you for sharing your friend’s story. I’m glad she was able to get away.

  6. This perspective is valuable, and everything else I’ve come to expect from you, Don– Fair, thorough, responsible, empathetic, solution-oriented, and incredibly human. If I were to be able to have my voice heard in regards to police training/funding in my area– whether it’s via letters, or councils, or fundraising– what should I suggest or be fighting for? More training, or a special unit, or…?

    1. You’re always so sweet Rara! It would really depend on the department, really. Different places need different things, but training is very important in my opinion. Even it’s simply training to learn to listen and have some empathy, every bit helps! Thanks for reading and the nice comment.

  7. Police officers should definitely be paid more. And you’re right, not all cops are created equal.

    1. Yay, more money please!!! Thanks, Goldy, I hope you’re doing well!

  8. Thank you most of all for caring!

    1. I’ll quit when I stop caring for people who need help. Thank you!

      1. That’s great to hear 🙂

  9. And you wonder why I keep calling you a softie Don when you keep writing posts like this. This is such a valuable perspective to share. There is a lot of negativity surrounding Police Officers and what they do or don’t (can or can’t) do to assist victims of DV. It’s incredibly easy to imagine the situation you are in and wonder why things are not different. You are an empathetic person and I’m glad you took the time to post here.

  10. Christina · · Reply

    Yep. I was under the assumption that police officer’s by the given nature of the job had to have some super natural power of seeing the truth. But a police officer’s job is to uphold the law, and if you’re fortunate you’ll only have contact with those that do. But as far as the emotional aspect, sensitivity, understanding, discernment, and even ethics, I don’t think that’s part of the job description. In the end, it’s a draw of the card whether or not you’ll get not a descent officer, but human, responding to your situation. And like Don, I’ve never given much thought to domestic violence either. I hate to say it, but as a woman, I came to expect a certain amount of shit to be dealt out to me simply because I do have a vagina. One good thing about joining this blogging community is that through other women’s stories I’ve come to realize that we don’t deserve and should not accept it.

  11. Yes, I was in a situation where I lived in a fairly rural area. My exN / abuser had grown up with the police, fed them in his restaurant for free, and sent them “sandwich platters” from his restaurant as gifts. When he was beating me, and I called the police, I was immediately treated like the “nutjob”, he was back on the street in 1 hour, and kicking down my door. I received several orders of protection, which were basically useless. He followed me at a discreet distance in his vehicle, and then ran me off the road into the ditch in a rural area, where he could confine and abuse me further. It was always my word against his, and we know who won. So, I hate to admit it, but the police are the last people I would now call.

    I really appreciated your blog, Don. It is heartening to know that police officers are receiving more training on how to help victims of domestic abuse. However, these N’s are experts at deceiving everyone, including police. I do notice that the police in rural areas seem to be the worst at helping us in our times of need. Rural areas seem to be a hotbed of domestic abuse also. Why do we pay some of the most important people to society so poorly? Why don’t they require continuing education credits? Anyway, I am rambling again, but Don hit the nail on the head in his comments. Perhaps those things will gradually change as we continue to speak out against domestic violence, and start educating those who must deal with the consequences.

  12. Good job, as always Don. I appreciate your sympathetic knowledge of the abuse cycle and the ways to break it. I also appreciate that with this blog you’ve helped me understand my local police dept and what they must go through.

  13. I’m curious to know how your experience compares to that of your UK counterparts. Over here, the police can arrest the accused if they suspect that that person assaulted or otherwise abused their partner. What I mean is, the alleged victim does not have to press charges or even agree to press charges at the point when the police are called to an incident (although they should press charges later). I have not experienced domestic violence, but my previous downstairs neighbour did. The police provided her with a panic alarm to make it easier for her to call for help. Do these measures exist as standard in the USA? I’m curious. And for more info about what to expect from the police in a domestic abuse situation in the UK, see: http://www.womensaid.org.uk/domestic-violence-survivors-handbook.asp?section=000100010008000100330003
    I just found that info there and thought I’d share in case there are other Brits on this site in search of advice.

    1. Most criminal laws applicable are state laws and would very a bit from state to state. Here in MO, we are supposed to arrest somebody if we get second call to the house or a domestic incident within 12 hours of the first call and no, the prosecution doesn’t need the victim to come forward in order to press charges, but of course it’s helpful. The law has gotten a little frustrating for police because it’s been interpreted to apply to so many situations that I don’t believe it was intended for so the courts are swamped with domestic cases.

  14. This is such a great post – so honest. Great job Don – I know this will help so many people.

speak loudly, donkeys are sleeping

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: