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From The Atlantic
Police Have a Much Bigger Domestic Abuse Problem Than the NFL
Should the National Football League suspend or ban any player caught assaulting a wife or girlfriend? That seems to be the conventional wisdom since video emerged of running back Ray Rice knocking his wife unconscious in an elevator, even as reports surface that many more NFL players have domestic-abuse records.
While I have no particular objection to a suspension of any length for such players, the public focus on NFL policy seems strange and misplaced to me. Despite my general preference for reducing the prison population, an extremely strong person rendering a much smaller, weaker person unconscious with his fists, as Rice did, is a situation where prison is particularly appropriate. More generally, clear evidence of domestic abuse is something that ought to result inlegal sanction. Employers aren’t a good stand in for prosecutors, juries, and judges.
Should ex-convicts who abused their partners be denied employment forever? I think not. Our notion should be that they’ve paid their debt to society in prison. Pressure on the NFL to take a harder line against domestic abuse comes in the context of a society where the crime isn’t adequately punished, so I totally understand it. Observing anti-NFL rhetoric, you’d nevertheless get the impression that other employers monitor and sanction domestic abuse incidents by employees. While I have nothing against pressuring the NFL to go beyond what the typical employer does, I fear that vilifying the league has the effect of misleading the public into a belief that it is out of step with general norms on this issue. Domestic violence is less common among NFL players than the general population.
And there is another American profession that has a significantly more alarming problem with domestic abuse. I’d urge everyone who believes in zero tolerance for NFL employees caught beating their wives or girlfriends to direct as much attention—or ideally, even more attention—at police officers who assault their partners. Several studies have found that the romantic partners of police officers suffer domestic abuse at rates significantly higher than the general population. And while all partner abuse is unacceptable, it is especially problematic when domestic abusers are literally the people that battered and abused women are supposed to call for help.
If there’s any job that domestic abuse should disqualify a person from holding, isn’t it 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 against domestic abusers?
The opprobrium heaped on the NFL for failing to suspend or terminate domestic abusers, and the virtual absence of similar pressure directed at police departments, leads me to believe that many people don’t know the extent of domestic abuse among officers. This is somewhat surprising, since a country shocked by Ray Rice’s actions ought to be even more horrified by the most egregious examples of domestic abuse among police officers. Their stories end in death.
There’s the recently retired 30-year veteran police officer who shot his wife and then himself in Colorado Springs earlier this summer. There’s Tacoma Police Chief David Brame, who perpetrated another murder-suicide in April. (Update: it’s in fact the tenth anniversary of this crime, which I missed in the ABC story.) Also in April, an Indiana news station reported on “Sgt. Ryan Anders, a narcotics officer,” who “broke into his ex-wife’s home and fatally shot her. He then turned the gun on himself.” In February, “Dallas police confirmed … that a Crandall police officer shot and killed his wife before killing himself.” Last year, a Nevada police officer killed his wife, his son, and then himself. And Joshua Boren, a Utah police officer, “killed his wife, their two children, his mother-in-law and then himself” after receiving “text messages … hours earlier threatening to leave him and take their kids and confronting him for raping her.” That isn’t an exhaustive survey, just a quick roundup of recent stories gleaned from the first couple pages of Google results. And statistics about “blue” domestic abuse are shocking in their own way.
As the National Center for Women and Policing noted in a heavily footnoted information 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.” Cops “typically handle cases of police family violence informally, often without an official report, investigation, or even check of the victim’s safety,” the summary continues. “This ‘informal’ method is often in direct contradiction to legislative mandates and departmental policies regarding the appropriate response to domestic violence crimes.” Finally, “even officers who are found guilty of domestic violence are unlikely to be fired, arrested, or referred for prosecution.”
What struck me as I read through the information sheet’s footnotes is how many of the relevant studies were conducted in the 1990s or even before. Research is so scant and inadequate that a precise accounting of the problem’s scope is impossible, as The New York Times concluded in a 2013 investigation that was nevertheless alarming. “In many departments, an officer will automatically be fired for a positive marijuana test, but can stay on the job after abusing or battering a spouse,” the newspaper reported. Then it tried to settle on some hard numbers:
In some instances, researchers have resorted to asking officers to confess how often they had committed abuse. One such study, published in 2000, said one in 10 officers at seven police agencies admitted that they had “slapped, punched or otherwise injured” a spouse or domestic partner. A broader view emerges in Florida, which has one of the nation’s most robust open records laws. An analysis by The Times of more than 29,000 credible complaints of misconduct against police and corrections officers there strongly suggests that domestic abuse had been underreported to the state for years.
After reporting requirements were tightened in 2007, requiring fingerprints of arrested officers to be automatically reported to the agency that licenses them, the number of domestic abuse cases more than doubled—from 293 in the previous five years to 775 over the next five. The analysis also found that complaints of domestic violence lead to job loss less often than most other accusations of misconduct.
A chart that followed crystallized the lax punishments meted out to domestic abusers. Said the text, “Cases reported to the state are the most serious ones—usually resulting in arrests. Even so, nearly 30 percent of the officers accused of domestic violence were still working in the same agency a year later, compared with 1 percent of those who failed drug tests and 7 percent of those accused of theft.”
The visualization conveys how likely it is that domestic abuse by police officers is underreported in states without mandatory reporting requirements–and also the degree to which domestic abuse is taken less seriously than other officer misconduct:
The New York Times
For a detailed case study in how a police officer suspected of perpetrating domestic abuse was treated with inappropriate deference by colleagues whose job it was to investigate him, this typically well-done Frontline story is worthwhile.
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