Police Culture and Training

February 2, 2012

Police Culture and Training 

Written by Victoria Marion

Research suggests that police culture plays a significant role in domestic violence perpetrated by police officers. Police culture has been in existence since its establishment in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel who launched the first paramilitary modeled police organization in London, establishing the London Police Department (Uchida 2010; Stevens 2008)” (Cochrane, 2008). “The paramilitary hierarchical chain of command intended to promote respect for authority, building camaraderie among those in uniform, and emphasizing ethical behavior from all officers would establish the foundation of police culture and the influence that is still in existence today” (Uchida 2010; Black 1991) (Cochrane, 2011). 

Solidarity among law enforcement has come to be known as “The Blue Wall” and is not only commonplace among law enforcement but expected among the profession. The solidarity and a strong sense of loyalty, lack of monitoring within the law enforcement culture; ultimately results in the police policing themselves. The lack of policies in place in addition to the absence of enforcement of laws and policies within law enforcement has made domestic violence among law enforcement difficult to challenge, treat, and resolve. 

Barriers Victims Face

Research reveals the level of the lethality involved in domestic violence by police officers as the most lethal form of domestic violence. This may be due to the accessibility of weapons and training. Additionally, police officers work within the very system where the victim will report the abuse and attempt to seek help and justice. Solidarity reaches far beyond the police department. It reaches into the judicial system where judges often side with the police officer. Judicial bias is common among police officers who engage in domestic violence and charged with the crime. 

It is suggested that working within the same system, the criminal justice arena, members of that system also feel the same sense of loyalty, preventing victims from seeking necessary actions to protect themselves from the abuse; such as obtaining a personal protection order, or child custody. Personal protection orders are often denied by judges because of a federal law, The Lautenberg Amendment to the gun control act and family violence act (1968). This law prohibits any person convicted of domestic violence from possessing firearms, including a police officer “A law enforcement officer with such a conviction cannot carry a gun” (Allen, Hibler, & Miller 2000). This poses a significant threat to the officer’s position since carrying a gun is part of the tools of the trade of police work. Other professions do not have the same threat of a potential loss of employment when charged with domestic violence. 

Police Culture Influences Victim Assistance

Police culture also influences victim assistance and response to the domestic violence complaint. It is suggested that because of the officer’s position and working within the criminal justice system where domestic violence is charged as a crime within the general population; is voided when the batterer is a police officer. A lack of cooperation by the police department in prosecuting the police batterer, in addition to covering up the crime due to police cultural influence, the police policing themselves, judicial bias, fear of liability within the police department and the Lautenberg amendment to the gun control act are all factors that are considered when charging a police officer with domestic violence.

In one study by Sgambelluri, it is suggested that policing encourages and attracts individuals with characteristics associated with authoritarianism and many domestic abusers possess this same trait. Although policing may enhance or influence attitudes and behaviors to abuse, in itself, policing does not cause domestic violence. It is the police culture's attitudes, behaviors and police training that can further enhance an abuser’s tactics on the victim(Sgambelluri 2000). 

Police training and tactics begin early on, as early as the pre-employment phase. Police officers are trained to tell the evaluating psychologist and the Oral Review Board exactly what they want to hear, and not what they would actually say if they were telling the truth. This poses a the question as to whether police departments across the country are hiring genuine well-adjusted police officers who are suited for the police profession. 

With appropriate coaching and training, police candidates are being passed off as “Competent” or fit for duty when these individuals may not be psychologically fit. “In studying domestic violence by police officers it is important to determine whether the increased levels of domestic violence among law enforcement is due to characteristics of the individual officer; such as personality, background; conditions of the job itself or an interaction between the two” (Aamodt, 1998). Alternatively, research suggests that it is both individual personality traits along with police culture and training that constitute the police personality. 

Common police training tactics used to perpetrate domestic violence by a police officer include utilizing departmental assets to harass, stalk, abuse, coerce or intimidate and instill fear in the victim; such as driving by the victim’s house to let her/him know that they are watching them; utilizing databases to obtain information on the victim and their friends and family; or putting taps on the phone of the victim; utilizing other officers to further intimidate the victim or to cover-up misconduct. Other tactics include using physical control maneuvers that will not leave marks on the victim, arresting the victim, and twisting the truth to make the victim look crazy, unstable or a trouble maker.  It is interesting to note that the number one physical tactic used on victims, per victim's account is the chokehold. It is a training technique learned in the police academy. 

Creative Report Writing 101 

Police officers are responsible for writing police reports and they know how to write a police report to their advantage to press charges against the victim. For those unfamiliar with domestic violence tactics used by police officers, many may not believe a police officer could get away with doing this; however, it is a common tactic used in domestic violence by police officers or in excessive force cases. Police officers use this same tactic to write a police report to reflect a more different view of what actually happened. When an officer or a fellow officer engages in police excessive force they may attempt to blame the excessive force as being necessary to subdue an alleged offender. This may be true in some cases. The offender is often surprised to see that the police report does not reflect the actual events that occurred. The report is embellished with things that didn't occur, making the victim look like the aggressor, or violent. The same is true of police officers who engage in domestic violence and the police are called. 

Many times, fellow officers will go along with their co-worker, the off-duty officer (Officer could be on duty in uniform) who perpetrated the domestic violence that resulted in the police being called, and the officers who arrive at the scene will write the report to benefit their fellow colleague. 
This trait is a form of manipulation, and deception which is commonly seen in individuals with psychopathy, and antisocial personality disorder, also traits of domestic abusers. 

It should be noted that not all police officers will go along with the program when asked to write a false or embellished police report, and the officer will be arrested. In fact, more officers are now being held accountable for their actions more now than ever before. This is due to social media, and a well-informed society. People are finally protesting and fighting for their rights and their lives. The use of cameras and video surveillance is making it more challenging for officers to get away with crimes such as excessive force and in some cases, domestic violence. 

A more realistic scenario described by victims goes more like this: The police officer psychologically, and physically assaults the victim but doesn’t leave any marks. The victim calls the police and the offender laughs at her telling her “who do you think they’ll believe you or me?” This infuriates the victim even more and the victim calls the police. The police arrive and when the victim tells her side of the story, the officers ask to see if there are any physical injuries. The victim lifts her shirt to show the officers only to realize that there aren’t any marks, and if there are marks, they believe that they are lighter than the pain the victim feels. The offending officer tells his fellow officers “She was coming at me with a knife, what was I supposed to do, let her stab me?” Then the victim is arrested for felonious assault. 

Police officers, society, and juries will typically believe a police officer over an alleged offender most of the time. Juries often believe that an offender is making up stories to avoid incarceration or other punishment by the court. The above example was an actual domestic incident between an actual victim and her police officer boyfriend. It is also common for police batterers to undermine and twist the truth turning the victim into the defendant. 

Playing the Crazy Card 

The above photo is of a psychiatric hospital where the victim was taken for competency to stand trial psychiatric evaluation. Could you imagine pulling up to this? How scary this looks. It still looks like this today. This building is an old prison hospital used to house criminally insane inmates. Now part of the building is used for evaluations and treatment for prisoners. This is taken from the book "The Blue Wall of Silence" written by Alex Quinn.

One of the most disturbing tactics among domestic violence by police officers is attempting to make the victim look crazy. Although this is common among all domestic abusers this tactic can have serious consequences for the victim. Common statements made by all domestic abusers in all populations may include: “She’s crazy: she’s bi-polar; she always does this on her period; she always acts like this once a month (referring to her menstrual cycle); she is emotionally unstable; I am worried about her, she has been acting very irrational lately; I’m not sure what to do anymore, I love her, but I can’t take her mental instability; look at her, look how she is behaving” (referring to the reaction after being abused, which is completely normal) and so on. 

Even more devastating and harmful to the victim is to have the victim psychiatrically evaluated under false pretenses. This is done when the abuser, a police officer, states that the victim, his intimate partner, has threatened to commit suicide or harm him; or harm herself and her children. Fellow officers are then called to the house with a petition to have the victim taken to a psychiatric hospital. What makes this more devastating to the victim is that the hospital rarely questions a police petition. The hospital realizes that if a patient is brought in by the police, then they must be in severe distress. According to Melton et al. “The jurisprudential basis of criminal law is the “police power,” which authorizes the state to protect the community and to “ensure domestic tranquility. Civil commitment has traditionally been justified under the state’s parens patriae authority to act as the “general guardian of all infant, idiots, and lunatics” (Melton et. al., 2007). In other words, the police have the power to have an individual committed to a psychiatric hospital under their discretion, how long? That is determined by the medical staff. 

They can use this power to abuse their power. This is one of the most common tactics used by police against their intimate partners (Melton et. al., 2007). Additionally, civil commitment states the terms describing the grounds for intervention such as mental disorder, a need for treatment, or is a threat to self or other. Police officers can and do write in their reports that their victim meets one of the criteria mentioned by making it appear as if it is the victim who is “mentally ill” or “mentally unstable.” 

A common scenario involves the victim being taken to the hospital in handcuffs by the very officers she has eaten dinner with at family gatherings. They are the friends of her batterer, a police officer. She is embarrassed, humiliated, confused, angry, and traumatized. When she arrives at the hospital, the victim is rambling on trying to tell the nurse that she isn’t crazy and that her husband is a police officer and he did this to her. The victim is in extreme panic, her speech is pressured as a result, she is crying hysterically. She is afraid of what will happen if they commit her. Everyone is afraid of the unknown, especially being admitted to a psych unit of a hospital. The victim’s attempt to plead with the hospital staff that she is not crazy while she is crying, yelling obscenities, and telling them the police did it only reinforces the police petition. The victim is in shock and her speech is incoherent as a result of the abuse. 

The nurse will do the initial assessment and medication is often recommended to calm the victim down. In an actual case, the nurse began to give the victim an injection of an anti-psychotic, Haloperidol. The victim was aware of patient rights and the right to refuse treatment. She refused the medication. The nurse was surprised at the patient’s request. The patient asked why she was being given this drug and the nurse responded by telling the victim "the police report stated that you were bi-polar, so the doctor ordered it to calm you down." The victim was further traumatized. She had never had such a diagnosis; however, after this event, she was treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of the emotional and physical abuse perpetrated by her police boyfriend. 

This tactic has serious consequences on the victim’s overall mental health, in addition to her overall credibility in the event that she has to call the police again for help. The victim will be less likely to call the police for help in the future. This will have a significant impact on the power and control that the abuser has on the victim. He knows that she is afraid to call the police in the future because he tells her that her credibility is shot, and everyone already thinks she’s crazy. This tactic can also have serious consequences on the victim if she is going through a divorce and fighting for custody of the children. Any medical or legal document can have an impact on any situation and the police batterer understands this.