In the past five years, 41 officers in 12 agencies in the Washington State counties of King and Pierce have been accused of assaulting, stalking, threatening or harassing their wives, girlfriends or children, a five-month investigation by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has found. Most have paid little, if any, professional price. Only half faced charges. The reasons for that sometimes have little to do with guilt or innocence. Victims may refuse to pursue charges, fearing further violence or financial ruin if an abuser loses his job. Some police departments don’t bother to take abuse allegations seriously.
The most horrifying reminder of that came on April 26, when Tacoma police Chief David Brame shot his wife, Crystal, in a parking lot, then killed himself moments later. The murder-suicide exposed serious concerns about how city officials minimized signs of Brame’s violent nature.
The Post-Intelligencer concludes that most police departments are falling short in the way they handle domestic violence allegations against officers. The departments are creating a double standard by not immediately arresting officers accused of domestic violence; putting victims at greater risk by not taking away officers’ guns; failing to do thorough internal investigations of the incidents; rarely determining there was wrongdoing in domestic violence complaints against officers; and lacking specific policies on how to deal with officers accused of abuse.
In a second article today on the subject, the Post-Intelligencer says that police who become batterers have the training and inside knowledge of the legal system to outmaneuver victims, experts say. The same gun and badge that enables cops to uphold the law can be used to control victims. An officer can intimidate by simply cleaning his weapon in front of a victim. He can monitor movements by tapping a phone or attaching a tracking device to a car.
They know how to interrogate relentlessly. Or block a doorway, then accuse the victim of physical assault if she tries to push past. They understand that calling 911 or filing a protection order will help build a case against the victim. If it comes down to his word against hers, victims are at a huge disadvantage.
“It’s a very hidden crime,” said Margaret Moore of the National Center for Women & Policing in Arlington, Va. “You’re not just taking on a person. You’re taking on a culture, an institution, a way of life.” With little or no support, and everything to lose, many victims opt to get a divorce and quietly vanish.