Police Domestic Violence

Defining Domestic Violence by Police Officers

Written by Victoria Marion
Domestic violence is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon. It remains a global issue that continues to be reported in epidemic proportions. Researchers have endlessly researched domestic violence in many ways: causation of domestic violence, dynamics of domestic violence, the scope of the problem, the cycle of violence, the power imbalance between victim and batterer, the impact that domestic violence has on society as a whole; including statistics, cost of health care from injuries sustained by the victim including mental health services, and rehabilitation for the offender, among other variables.

What if the abuser is a police officer? 

Domestic violence by police officers is an area of study and is considered a sub-population of abuse. What does that mean? With domestic violence being the general term for domestic violence, police perpetrated domestic violence (PPDV) is another term utilized to describe a culture, police culture, who engages in domestic violence. Other terms used include officer-involved domestic violence or OIDV.

According to the International Association of Cheifs of Police, domestic violence is defined as "abusive behavior in any relationship, as outlined by state law, that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner or family or household member. An intimate partner or family or household member includes those individuals who are married, in a domestic partnership, or in a romantic or dating relationship; have a child in common; have been intimately involved in some way; are related by blood, adoption, or legal custody; or reside in the same home. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone" (IACP 2018).

domestic violence perpetrated by a law enforcement officer. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) defines domestic violence by police officers as follows: ╩║Domestic violence╩║ refers to an act or pattern of violence perpetrated by a police officer upon his or her intimate partner not done in defense of self or others, including but not limited to the following: Bodily injury or threat of imminent bodily injury, sexual battery, physical restraint, property crime directed at the victim, stalking, violation of a court order of protection or similar injunction, death threats or death “ (IACP 2002).

Further, the IACP defines an intimate partner as “An intimate partner” of a police officer is any person who meets one or more of the following criteria: Is or was legally married to the police officer, Has a child in common with the police officer, Has or had a dating relationship with the police officer, Is specified as an intimate partner by state law; Is cohabitating or has cohabitated romantically with the police officer. Domestic violence perpetrated by law enforcement is considered a sub-population of domestic abusers which contains cultural factors within the police culture.


Domestic violence by police officers continues to remain a health issue among police families,  victims,  and within the law enforcement community. The psychology profession and research arena have struggled to provide interventions and strategies due to lack of cooperation by law enforcement agencies, and lack of evidenced-based practice and empirical studies related to the police culture in relationship to domestic violence. “Researchers have established that law enforcement officers consistently report using violence with their intimate partners, although the reported rates have varied. Klein and Klein (2000) found rates lower than that of the general population – around 5% – while other studies found much higher rates, up to 40% (Neidig, Russell, & Seng, 1992). Feder found 24% in 1997; Ryan found 10% in 2000; Gershon found 9% in 2000; and Johnson found 40% in 1991. While no precise rate of officer-involved domestic violence has been formally established, it is clear that officer-involved domestic violence exists and deserves careful attention (IACP, 2003b)” (Oehme & Martin, 2011).

Research shows that domestic violence by the general population is underreported and domestic violence by police officers is believed to lack sufficient statistical data partially due to the police policing themselves; thus, resulting in a lack of data, and altered results as to how many police officers engage in domestic violence.

When a police officer is charged with domestic violence, the administration of the police department and Internal Affairs investigate the incident. Many times, the department attempts to resolve the issue internally. This means that the police department may contact the victim, interview the victim, and tell the victim that they will handle it. What they fail to inform the victim of is that they are not going to go through the typical channels that a victim would normally go through if the perpetrator was not a police officer. For example, it is reported that victims rarely receive an official or formal complaint number. This is because the police report is not available in the records department as you would see in a civilian complaint. The incident becomes and remains part of the individual officer’s personal personnel file. This can leave the victim vulnerable with a lack of supporting documentation. For example, when a victim goes to file for a personal protection order (PPO), supporting documentation is essential, however, the victim will not receive a police report. What she receives is verbal contact by internal affairs. This is only one reason why documentation is vital.

The police administration plays referee hoping to resolve the issue within the department. Another common intervention by the department includes contacting the officer involved in the DV incident. During their meeting with the domestic abuser, brass will remind the officer of professional conduct both on and off the job. The administration will often leave the officer with a warning, and the officer who abused his partner, leaves the victim with a warning of their own (Not to call the department to report domestic violence) and the violence escalates for the victim. The lack of responsibility by the department, the lack of accountability by the officer, the lack of enforcing domestic violence laws, in addition to lack of punishment imposed on the officer puts the victim, society and the law enforcement community in a dangerous and precarious position.

Lautenberg Amendment 

A very important and powerful variable that may be partially responsible for the “lack of’s” mentioned above (e.g. lack of reporting, lack of enforcing laws, lack of holding the officer accountable. etc.) is the federal law that may threaten the officer’s job when charging the officer. The Lautenberg Amendment to the control gun control act (1968), the family violence act states that anyone convicted of domestic violence cannot carry a firearm. This puts the police officer in a precarious position since part of the officer’s tools includes a firearm.