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Effects of Domestic Violence against Police Officers

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In today’s, domestic violence has become a serious crime that exists in the shadows. Across the world, it is defined at different levels, with different meanings, and different levels of punishments; however, even with the knowledge of this crime that affects approximately ten million people a year. To the victims, police officers are there to not only enforce the law but to defend the victims they encounter. However, how does the police officer community handle it when the domestic violence involves law enforcement officers in either role of abuser or victim? Violence within a peace officer’s family can be contributed to several different factors, including, but not limited to: personal experiences on patrol, “burnout” from the stress, relationships between fellow officers, and overbearing authoritarian spillover. Alone, each of these factors could push a normal person to a level of stress that would increase the likelihood of domestic violence; the idea that an officer could encounter all of these factors in a single shift at work piles on the greater potential that family violence will exist.

There is little to no empirical data or comprehensive research in this subject; according to Stinson, Liederbach, & Brewer Jr. (2016), there has been a movement in the last two decades to recognize the seriousness and secrecy of officer-involved domestic violence. The theory behind why there are very few empirical studies is simply that the participants – the officers – have to admit that it is happening, whether they are the abuser or the victim. If the abuser, it violates the oath that they have taken; if they are the victim, it enters a new world that an officer must encounter outside of the abuser. Additionally, there is research that is conducted by third-party organizations, such as The Advocates for Human Rights (OIDV) (2018), which examines the factors involved however the issue of accurately recording which category the officer falls into is unmet.

As slight as the research available is in identifying these officers, both as an abuser and victim, there is even less observing what happens when the officer is a victim. In this, it is meant that no data is showing, for example, the issues an officer who was a victim of domestic violence may face in returning to duty. While there are studies for civilians of domestic violence, specifically targeted research on police officers could not be found. Additionally, while there is a knowledge of the law surrounding domestic violence, there is hardly any research dealing with when the police officer becomes the suspect. The ripple effect on not only the victim but also the agency and the reputation of law enforcement get affected as well. This research paper will focus on these ripple effects from both spectrums of domestic violence and identify potential deterrents and recovery effects that could be effective for peace officers.

Literature Review

As previously stated, there is little empirical, comprehensive, or even statistical data regarding officer-involved domestic violence. However, it could be argued that even with the data that has been collected, the results would be flawed; the prior methods of self-report surveys would be severely limited to officers as they would not want to reveal acts of violence that they had committed or were a victim too. According to Cheema (2016), this comes from an officer trying to protect their careers: whether it is doing to a criminal act or an act that may question their capability as a police officer. Because of this flaw, new methods of collecting data need to be found to have data that is not corrupted and is unbiased. Due to the issue, officer-involved domestic violence is at a disadvantage when it comes to research as the data may be inaccurate or tainted. It is a major flaw in the research and new methods need to be in place to collect accurate data.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a crime that can take many forms and many definitions; the United States Department of Justice (2020) defines domestic violence as “felony or misdemeanor crimes of violence committed by a current or former spouse or intimate partner of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabitating with or has cohabitated with the victim as a spouse or intimate partner, by a person similarly situated to a spouse of the victim under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction receiving grant monies, or by any other person against an adult or youth victim who is protected from that person’s acts under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction.” An exceptionally long definition that does its best to cover all the individuals that could be involved in an incident. Under the Texas Penal Code, Title 4, Subtitle A, Chapter 71 definitions section 71.004 (2019), domestic violence in Texas is defined as “an act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault, but does not include defensive measures to protect oneself.”

For this research paper, because the focus is on Texas peace officers, the definition of domestic violence according to the Texas Penal code will be used. In the public, domestic violence is recognized as being a physical act, one that has evidence that a crime has occurred. Although domestic violence can be identified in many forms, there can be four categories of domestic violence: physical abuse, economic abuse, psychological abuse, and sexual abuse. Physical abuse is defined as non-accidental delivery of physical harm or trauma. This includes, but is not limited to beating, punching, kicking, burning, biting, strangulation, physically restraining the person, and otherwise harming a person. Additionally, these acts can also include withholding physical needs, such as sleep, food, or medical care. In many cases, physical violence is the most visible in terms of abuse but rarely happens without some other form of abuse accompanying it.

Another form of domestic violence, which can also be physical in some nature, is sexual abuse. In the state of Texas, there is an incredibly detailed definition of what sexual assault is in the Texas Penal Code, Title 5, Offense Against the Person, Chapter 22, Assaultive Offenses, Section 22.011 (2019). However, in domestic violence, sexual abuse can be used in several different ways: both verbal and physical behaviors. For example, the abuser using different means to make the victim have sex with others, unwanted sexual experiences, or other sexual activities through physical force, coercion, manipulation, intimidation, or complete disregard of the victims wants.

Domestic violence also comes in the form of emotional abuse; this type of abuse is also defined as verbal or emotional debasement directed at domestic partners or family members. This definition is hard to fit into every relationship as depending on the demographic, cultural, and even sex of the victim, emotional abuse can be inflicted in different ways . According to Estefan, Coulter & VandeWeerd (2016), emotional abuse can be defined as any behavior that exploits the victim’s vulnerability, character, or insecurity. Examples of this would be undermining and insulting a victim’s self-confidence with public humiliation, threatening the victim, both directly or indirectly, by stating an intention of harm or loss. Additionally, actions, statements, or even gestures that degrade and attack a victim’s self-worth or self-esteem or other forms of manipulation to make the victim feel powerless. According to Estefan, Coulter & VandeWeerd (2016), this is a form of abuse that takes place over a period and may be one of the harder forms of abuse to physically be seen.

The fourth form of domestic violence according to Texas Health and Human Services, (2020) is economic/financial abuse. According to Postmus, Hoge, et al (2018), economic abuse is defined as a manner of control where individuals interfere and control the victim’s ability to acquire, use, and maintain different types of economic resources. This is accomplished through different means, such as controlling the family income, without permission or regard for the victim’s needs, limiting the victim to an allowance, or having the victim surrendering their paycheck to the abuser. If the victim does manage to secure employment, the abuser can manipulate the victim in ways to make them lose their job, such as being late, refusing to transport them to work, and harassing them at work. While the term economic and financial abuse is frequently used interchangeably, according to Postmus, Hoge, et al (2018), financial abuse is more focused on individual monies while economic abuse focuses on other tangible items such as transportation, shelter, employment, or education.

Texas Laws and Punishments

In the state of Texas, there have been increased punishments and stricter guidelines to help to combat domestic violence and the punishments to go with it. Domestic violence falls under the Texas Penal Code, Title 5 Offenses against the Person, Chapter 22 Assaultive Offensives (2019); it should be noted that when crimes under this section are committed, such as assault, and are found to be the result of family violence, the severity of the crime is enhanced one level above. For example, if an individual intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily harm to another person, it would be considered a Class A misdemeanor, however, if it is found that the victim of that assault is a family member, as defined by Texas Code, then the crime becomes a felony of the third degree. It should also be noted, that if it is found that the assault taken place involves intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly impeding the victim’s normal breathing or circulation of the blood by applying pressure to the victim’s throat or neck (choking) or by blocking the victim’s mouth or nose (suffocating), the crime is automatically considered a third-degree felony.

In the 2019 Texas Legislation, the term “choking” was replaced with a more concise definition of “impeding breath or circulation” to help cover broader issues that were being found in the police officer’s interaction with domestic victim survivors. In Texas, just the act of committing a crime of domestic violence has consequences that will be seen for longer than just a jail term for the guilty individual. There are additional penalties outside of the correctional system that one must deal with on top of a potential jail term. It should also be noted that domestic violence enhances criminal charges. While there are many crimes that can start at the lowest Class C misdemeanor, charges dealing with family violence start at a Class A misdemeanor as a baseline. The penalties for domestic violence charges are as followed:

  •  Class A misdemeanor: Maximum of 12 months in jail and a maximum $4,000 fine
  •  Third-degree felony: 2-10 years in prison and a maximum of $10,00 fine
  •  Second-degree felony: 2-20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000
  • First-degree felony: 5-99 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000

In addition to these lingering sentences, with the option for probation or parole after the term, an individual who is convicted under this offense faces other obstacles. Under the Texas Penal Code, Title 10, Offenses against Public Health, Safety, and Morals, Chapter 46, Weapons (2020), an individual who have been convicted of a domestic violence crime may not possess a firearm until five years after the anniversary of either the date of release from confinement or date of release from community supervision. Violating this law leads the individual to face an additional charge with the punishment option of a third-degree felony, which makes the sentence more compounded. Additionally, individuals convicted of domestic violence charges, whether a misdemeanor or felony, are prohibited from holding certain jobs in Texas, most significant, those jobs in the public field: teachers, firefighters, ems, and, of course, police officers.

Causes of Domestic Violence in Law Enforcement Officers

The issue concerning why law enforcement officers, those who are assigned to protect and service the public, engage in the crime of domestic violence. One of the identified root causes of this is stress. According to Bergman, Christopher, & Bowen (2016), policing is widely considered to be one of the most stressful occupations; officers are exposed to both operational and organizational stressors. Organizational stressors would include issues such as departmental politics, impending litigation, changing policies, a contrast of policies to current laws, lack of advancement internally, and miscarriages of justice. Operational stressors would include the chronic and traumatic experiences that officers are exposed each shift with no recovery time, working irregular shift hours (evening and overnights), the issue of staying a state of alert for entire shifts, poor coping skills to deal with these issues; all of these contributing to a condition of “burnout.”

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