Domestic violence is 2 to 4 times more common in police families than in the general population. In two separate studies, 40% of police officers self-report that they have used violence against their domestic partners within the last year. In the general population, it’s estimated that domestic violence occurs in about 10% of families.
In a nationwide survey of 123 police departments, 45% had no specific policy for dealing with officer-involved domestic violence. In that same survey, the most common discipline imposed for a sustained allegation of domestic violence was counseling. Only 19% of departments indicated that officers would be terminated after a second sustained allegation of domestic violence.
In San Diego, a national model in domestic violence prosecution, the City Attorney typically prosecutes 92% of referred domestic violence cases, but only 42% of cases where the batterer is a cop. (The foregoing information was gathered from the National Center for Women and Policing, Abuse of Power, and Life Span .
Last April, police domestic violence moved from the back rooms to the front pages when Tacoma, Washington Police Chief David Brame shot and killed his wife, Crystal Brame, as their two young children waited nearby. Prior to the shooting, Crystal had filed court papers accusing her husband of two separate incidents over the prior six months when David Brame pointed his service revolver at her and tried to choke her, threatening to “snap [her] neck.”
In the wake of Brame’s death, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer did an extensive investigation into officer-involved domestic violence in the Seattle area. They found 41 officers who had been accused of domestic violence within the previous five years, a number of them accused of multiple incidents. Few paid any professional price; less than half faced charges, and only one was convicted. Among the cases unearthed by the Post-Intelligencer are these:
Seattle Police Ofcr. Phil Rees flew into a rage and slammed his wife, Jenifer, into a wall and hurled a dresser drawer at her, leaving visible injuries. Jenifer Rees called King County sheriff’s deputies, who handed her intoxicated husband back his gun and let him drive away, “so he wouldn’t miss work in the morning.” No charges were filed. Rees was not disciplined, despite two prior complaints of domestic violence against him.
In a fight with his wife, Ofcr. Kevin Hawley grabbed his handgun saying, “I’m going to blow my fucking head off and you’re going to watch.” He then put the gun barrel in his mouth and pressed his cheek against hers. No internal investigation was conducted. Hawley was promoted to detective.
Four days before Christmas, Washington State Trooper Ronald Somerville grabbed his girlfriend by the throat, shoved her over the couch and pounced on her. When she ran to the phone to call 911, Somerville snatched the receiver and hung it up. As she darted for the stairs, he grabbed her again, put his hand around her throat and pushed her down, shouting, “You don’t want to go out this way.” Somerville was charged with 4th degree assault and vandalism, charges that were later dismissed. His discipline? A written reprimand.
The Post-Intelligencer found that police departments in general were:
Creating a double standard by not immediately arresting officers accused of domestic violence.
Putting victims at greater risk by not taking away the officers’ guns.
Failing to conduct thorough internal investigations of the incidents. (In many cases no review was conducted.)
Rarely determining there was wrongdoing in domestic violence complaints against officers.
Lacking specific policies on how to handle officers accused of abuse.
But Seattle’s not the only city having problems with officer-involved domestic violence. In other areas, things look pretty much the same.
• Peabody, Massachusetts may Michael Bonfanti said he believed “human error” was responsible for the omission of Marblehead Police Ofcr. Cary Gaynor’s name from the police log after his arrest on domestic assault charges.
Gaynor was arrested after, in a fit of rage, he struck his wife with such force that the blow knocked her to the ground and bloodied her nose. Marblehead Police Chief Robert Champagne claimed responding police weren’t told Gaynor was a cop; however, on the 911 tape Gaynor’s wife can be heard saying her husband is a police officer.
• Galesville, Wisconsin Police Ofcr. James Brudos was arrested twice in less than a month for bail-jumping and restraining order violations, after pounding on the doors and windows of an ex-girlfriend’s home, according to court documents.
• Montezuma County, Colorado, Sheriff’s Lt. Steven Wayne DeKruger was arrested last July after becoming enraged during an argument with his wife. DeKruger grabbed a Glock 9mm automatic handgun and pointed it at her, then brought the gun up under his chin, saying he was going to shoot himself.
DeKruger had been charged just a month earlier for sexual misconduct in a penal institution and unlawful sexual contact with a victim who was in custody., At a pre-trial hearing, DeKruger’s attorney protested his $3,000 bail as “excessive.”
• Lacey, Washington Police Ofcr. Bruce Dobbs was charged with felony harassment after he went to his ex’s home and threatened to slit his stepson’s throat during a heated dispute over family issues. Dobbs, who sits on the board of directors for the Crime Stoppers program, was released on his own recognizance.
• Four Lexington, Kentucky police officers were accused of domestic violence over a four-month period. Two were charged; in two of the cases charges were dropped because the victims were too afraid to testify. In response, Lexington Police Chief Anthany Beatty is developing a counseling program for officers.
• In March this year, a Tacoma police Ofcr. Marco Rahn was charged with assaulting his estranged wife and sending her to the hospital. Court documents allege Rahn grabbed his estranged wife by the throat and threw her to the ground off a retaining wall. After his arrest, Rahn told a detective his wife fell over the retaining wall by accident. Rahn had received a letter of reprimand in 1999 after a Washington State Patrol investigation found he harassed a Tacoma woman who turned down his numerous requests for a date.
Clearly the partners of police officers represent a class of domestic violence victims whose access to law enforcement protection is severely proscribed. These women usually don’t report to police, primarily because he is the police and because often they are threatened with death if they do anything to compromise his job. As a result, when they do finally get out, prosecution is nearly impossible due to the lack of contemporaneous police reports, photographs of their injuries, 911 tapes, etc.
And when they do report, as we saw in the Lubiszewski case, the investigation is incomplete or nonexistent making prosecution even more difficult; the victims are intimidated and urged to drop their complaints; and nothing is done to put the batterer in check, only increasing the woman’s danger.
Those of us whose job is the protection of women from domestic violence have a responsibility to these women to provide them equal protection as provided in the California and U.S. Constitutions. At this moment we are failing in that task. It’s time for us to turn that around.
Domestic Violence: What Should Happen When Police Arrive
On January 1, 2000, a host of new domestic violence laws went into effect in California. These laws give new protections and new rights to women victimized by their partner’s violence against them. But as we’ve come to learn the hard way, laws intended to protect women are only as good as the paper they’re written on if we don’t demand and monitor their enforcement. So in an effort to ensure that women know our rights to justice …
Here’s what should happen if you call the sheriff or police to report domestic violence:
1. Officers must fill out a crime report, and they must send that report to the district attorney for action. Ask them for a case number before they leave. The victim has a right to receive a free copy of the face sheet of the report within 48 hours of the incident and the full report within five days.
2. They must make an arrest when there is visible injury, no matter how slight. In cases where there is no visible injury, they must inform the victim that she has a right to make a citizen’s arrest.
3. They must remove all firearms from the home. This is new law, and an important step to protect women. Officers should ask if there are guns in the house. If they don’t, make sure to tell them — then call us and report that they didn’t ask.
4. They must make an arrest on violations of a domestic violence restraining order, whether or not that violation occurred in the officer’s presence. Formerly only county protocol (and almost never enforced), this is now California law. Law enforcement is also mandated to maintain a record of all restraining orders and inform officers responding to a domestic violence call when there are restraining orders in force. (Also new this year, it is against the law for a person with a domestic violence restraining order against them to possess, own or purchase a firearm.)
5. They must offer the victim an Emergency Protective Order which officers can issue on the spot, and which covers the victim for one week, giving her time to get a more permanent order.
6. In cases where both parties show signs of injury, the police must identify and arrest the primary aggressor, i.e., the most significant aggressor, regardless of who started the fight. They should not arrest the victim!
7. They must carry out a complete investigation of the crime, including a full history of previous domestic violence, interviews with all witnesses, photos of injuries and the scene, placing the 911 tape, medical records in evidence, etc. This complete investigation will make the case less dependent on the victim’s testimony alone.
As a community, we must know our rights and demand that the sheriff and police respect them.
If you call police to protect you from domestic violence and officers fail to follow these legally mandated protocols, please report that failure to the Purple Berets. Please help us get this information widely distributed.
Call us for free copies of this flyer.
PURPLE BERETS • PO Box 3064, Santa Rosa, CA 95402 • 707-887-0262
Police Family Violence Fact Sheet – from The National Center for Women and Policing – “Two studies have found that at least 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence, in contrast to 10% of families in the general population….” This research is old. We need new studies. It’s all we have so we quote it, but I’m not satisfied with the scale or method. Most law enforcement agencies do not keep specific count of officer-involved domestic violence incidents.
Police Domestic Violence: A Handbook for Victims – Abuse of Power
Police Domestic Violence Links
Abuse of Power
Authored by Diane Wetendorf, one of the primary resources on
police domestic violence. Diane Wetendorf, Inc.: (847) 749-2560
Jan is with the Chicago Police, working specifically with women abused by police officers.
Behind the Blue Wall
The most comprehensive site of incidents of police DV around the county.
Cases, fact sheets, advocacy tools.
Authored by Jacquelyn Campbell
Authored by the father of Crystal Judson (Brame), murdered by her husband, Tacoma, Washington Police Chief David Brame in 2003. Includes text of Washington legislation passed in the wake of her murder, etc.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Exposé on Police DV
Amazing series of articles in the wake of theBrame murder-suicide.