Massachusetts Domestic Violence Charges: Many Police Departments Turn a Blind Eye to Their Officers’ Own Problems – Part Two of Two

In my previous post on this subject, I wrote about how, for a variety of reasons that are both wise, and also some unwise, police departments these days are extremely aggressive when it comes to responding to reports of domestic violence. It is almost standard procedures these days that, when patrol officers respond to a “domestic,” one of the parties on the scene is going to be arrested – regardless of what the parties say or how minor the conflict or argument might have been. As I said, most of the reasons for this aggressive policy are sound and wise – but some are not. The reasons that are not so wise are grounded in an unstated policy with many Massachusetts police departments of “CYA,” in my professional opinion as a Dedham domestic violence lawyer.

That’s my professional opinion, based on years of experience in the courtroom, and I suppose it can be debated. What’s not subject to debate is a fact that, ironically enough (and worse, hypocritically enough,) a great many police departments do just the opposite when it comes to their own officers: Many look the other way when it comes to reports of domestic violence in police households. In fact, while most cops can be fired or severely punished for something so minor as testing positive for marijuana use, they can remain on the job and in uniform for battering a spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend.

Yes, you heard that right. You can get up off the floor now.

The need for police departments to get just as tough with their employees on the subject of domestic violence, as they do with members of the general public, became clear ten years ago, when a police chief in Tacoma, Washington shot his wife to death in a parking lot, after years of reportedly abusing her. That incident opened up the public’s eyes to the problem of domestic violence in police households, and in the wake of that event the International Association of Chiefs of Police called for widespread adoption of stronger, model rules for its member police departments to follow in dealing with problems of domestic violence in officers’ households. The association also called for policed departments to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for police officers who abuse their spouses or partners, and recommended strict departmental procedures to ensure a rigorous and transparent department investigation of allegations that an officer was abusing his or her spouse or partner.

Care to take a guess how many police departments followed those recommendations, out of thousands of departments across the country? That’s a two-tier answer, and it’s quite shocking. The answers came from a survey conducted jointly by The New York Times and the authoritative PBS news program, “Frontline,” following Frontline’s airing if its documentary on the spousal abuse and murder committed by the Tacoma, Washington Chief of Police. The title of that documentary is “A Death In St. Augustine.” I urge all my readers to click on that link to view this disturbing story, as it reveals just the tip of the iceberg, in a system-wide problem plaguing police departments across this country.

As to the first answer to the above question, only 56 departments even bothered to answer the NYT/Frontline survey – only 56 out of hundreds of surveys sent to hundreds of police departments across the country. Secondly, only one-quarter of those 56 police departments that responded, even have any kind of a dedicated policy concerning domestic violence allegations against their officers.

Think about how stunning and shocking those figures are. Worse, consider how in-congruent and inconsistent those figures are, when compared against the “zero tolerance arrest policy that most police departments have, when responding to calls of domestic violence. This blatantly inarguable hypocrisy is quite outrageous, and embodies the “Do as I say, not as I do” approach of many governmental and organizations.

I’m not posting these facts because I’m in any way “anti-law enforcement.” This post isn’t about ‘police bashing.’ In fact, several of my friends are either police officers or work for police departments. But this hypocrisy must stop. If police departments want to approach domestic violence in the public they serve with a zero-tolerance policy, fine. As long as they practice internally, what they preach externally. As of right now, that isn’t the case with the vast majority of police departments in Massachusetts, and across the country.

That needs to change, and now. For everyone’s benefit.