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.
I 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.