The Big Blue Secret

by Diane Dimond on May 18, 2009


Domestic Abuse Hurts So ManyShe dug her heels into the carpet and put all her weight into trying to hold the door shut. Blood trickled down her face, her hands shaking uncontrollably. As she fumbled to engage the lock she heard him on the other side of the door, cursing, promising to kill her this time. Despite the terror she never thought to call police for help. Her husband still wore his patrol uniform, his service revolver at his hip. One move toward the phone to call his office and it would be bullets coming through the door …

Domestic violence happens everywhere. In poor, middle class and wealthy households terrible secrets are being held. Overwhelmed by the pressures of life some people snap and lash out at the person they are supposed to love the most.

This column is about a specific type of domestic violence. The type perpetrated by police officers once they go home. It’s the “Big Blue Secret” … …Violence made extra horrifying because the person meting it out is supposed to help keep the peace not disrupt it. Fellow cops know or suspect but they stay silent.

Studies show police households are up to 4 times more likely to erupt in domestic violence. A full 40% of them report they’ve experienced violence from their armed family member.

More disturbing, the studies report, is the resolution of complaints lodged by police family members. “Exceedingly light discipline” is reported in domestic abuse cases from California to New York. Many of those officers charged often get a slap on the wrist. Others go on to be promoted to higher ranks within a short period of time. This, of course, gives them even more power over their cowering family.

It’s understood that few underlings will step forward to go against a ranking officer.

Peterson's Mug Shot

Peterson’s Mug Shot

The recent (and some would say long overdue) arrest of ex-cop Drew Peterson underscores this national problem. The Bolingbrook, Illinois police department sergeant Peterson had four unhappy wives. His last two complained to confidants that he was controlling and violent and had convinced them his police colleagues would never help them.

Peterson is now charged with the 2004 murder of wife number 3, Kathleen, who was found badly beaten in a dry bathtub. Her death was ruled an accidental drowning. A new autopsy prompted the murder charges. His fourth wife, 23-year-old Stacy, disappeared in October 2007 and is widely presumed to be dead.

The Peterson case is just today’s most visible police involved domestic abuse story. There are reams more. And while it is uncomfortable for law enforcement agencies to admit it, in almost every case there were warning signs.

Police Chief David Brame

Police Chief David Brame

In 2003, the Chief of Police in Tacoma, Washington shot his wife and killed himself as their now orphaned children watched in horror from a nearby car.

Crystal Brame said her husband David had long been violently cruel. In her divorce papers she alleged several harrowing encounters, including times when the Chief would point his service revolver at her and say menacingly, “Accidents happen.” The implication was clear. He could kill her and get away with it.

In February 2008, Canton, Ohio police officer Bobby Cutts was found guilty of killing his pregnant girlfriend and their nearly full term baby.  Another Cutts’ girlfriend, mother to another of his children, said the officer was always very violent and, “he feels that he can do certain things and get away with them.”

Officer Bobby Lee Cutts

Officer Bobby Lee Cutts

In the late 80’s police family member/survivor Susan Murphy-Milano convinced her mother to move away and divorce her long abusive father, a top Detective with the Chicago violent crimes unit.

“My big mistake was not moving her far enough away,” Susan says today. In January 1989, she found the bodies of both her parents – a murder-suicide – dead at her father’s hand.

“He always said he was going to kill her. He finally did.”

The men (and, yes, sometimes the women) we train to police our nation are programmed to use force and even kill if need be. The problem comes, of course, when the synapses crisscross and the officer’s family takes the brunt of it.

And, those terrorized by officers are faced with a triple threat. The aggressor has a gun, knows the location of local battered women shelters and knows how to manipulate the system to avoid penalty or to shift suspicion to the victim.

Helps Battered Police Wives

Helps Battered Police Wives

Murphy-Milano, an author and victim’s advocate, trains women how to devise their own “exit plan” from police brutality. She suggests departments offer mandatory training for police spouses so they can learn how to diffuse threatening situations. And, victims need to be assured that action and punishment will be pursued even if the accused wears a badge.

Their families deserve as much protection and respect as the rest of us, right?


DianeDimond May 18, 2009 at 3:20 pm

DD Web site Reader Ken writes:

" I wanted to respond briefly to your latest. You see, I was the victim of WIFE abuse, made worse by a particularly obtuse south Alabama police department where the working assumption was that "the man is always the abuser."

Knowing that, her strategy was diabolical but devastatingly simple (always the best kind): get HIM to leave marks even if he is simply trying to defend himself. I escaped – but only through God's infinite grace (quite literally). But there was a point when the only choice seemed between murder and suicide. Instead I found salvation, redemption and a wonderful new life. But I wonder how many others – with guns and violence so prolific – make a tragic choice where the ultimate tragedy is that it didn't have to be that way at all?"

DianeDimond May 18, 2009 at 3:21 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Nancy writes:

Your Albuquerque Journal 5/16/09, story Tell the Violent Blue Secret certainly struck home for me.

As the mother of a young woman who died at the hands of here State Police husband, I know all to well how "Justice" can not only be delayed, it can be flatly denied.

I would be more than willing to further discuss my experiences spanning more than ten years with you. I am of the belief that it will take us all to bring about the political will to investigate, prosecute and bring justice on some level to these cases.

Thank you for your awareness and concern."

DianeDimond May 18, 2009 at 3:24 pm

ABQ Journal reader Eliot writes:

"….I think you did police officers a huge disservice in the "Tell the Violent Blue Secret" piece in today's Albuquerque JOURNAL. There can be no denying the statistics that show that police households have a high rate of violence. As a confirmed Liberal, I think it's clear that any household that is well stocked with weapons would have a high rate of violence. But that's off the subject.

What I saw as a disservice is in the sentence "The men (and, yes, sometimes the women) we train to police our nation are programmed to use force and even kill if need be". I don't believe that cops are "programmed to use force and even kill if need be.". I believe that cops are, instead, programmed to avoid force and to save lives, their own and the lives of perpetrators. They are trained in force techniques, and are taught–or programmed–to use lethal force only as a last resort. I may be being naive (although at age 65 I may be flattering myself to think of myself as naive), but I still respect policemen and women, and I think that characterizing them as "programmed killers" is unfair. It may be a matter of semantics, but I thought it necessary to write you.

Incidentally, I am not and have never been a police officer, nor am I related to any. "

DianeDimond May 18, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Eliot –

As regular readers of this column know I am a law and order kinda gal. I have great respect for those who wear a badge and work to keep us safe.

My precise line was; "The men (and, yes, sometimes the women) we train to police our nation are programmed to use force and even kill if need be."

That is a statement of fact, sir – not a pejorative statement. We DO train officers to use force and even DEADLY force if the situation warrants.

The main point of my column was that SOMETIMES officers turn on weaker family members, domestic violence erupts and sometimes people lose their lives. Even worse, I believe, is that when other officers know about it – or even suspect – they sometimes help cover up the crime. That's not fair, that's not the way it should be.

I'm truly sorry that message was lost on you – overshadowed by the one line in the column that mentioned police training. ~ DD

DianeDimond May 18, 2009 at 3:33 pm

DD Web site Reader Danno writes:

"The Big Blue Secret even extends to a cop that governor Palin tried to take off the streets..

On April 11th, 2008, Palin's sister, Molly McCann gets a domestic violence protective order against her ex husband, Alaska State TrooperMichael Wooten and files for divorce. Chuck Heath, the father of McCann and Palin, alerts troopers about the restraining order. The following day, a neighbor of McCann and Wooten's called troopers with concerns about Wooten, including alcohol abuse accusations.

On April 12th, 2008, a trooper captain orders Wooten to obey the protective order and turn in his weapons, badge and patrol car when he's off duty.

Federal law 18 U.S.C. Sec. 922(g)(9) does not say that a police officer must turn over his weapons "when he is off duty". The law states that he is "never" to possess weapons during the term that the retraining order is in effect (usually three years)!

The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) and the 1997 Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act contain federal firearms laws related to domestic violence. VAWA makes it a crime for a person who is the subject of a domestic abuse restraining order to transport, receive, or possess firearms or ammunition which have come across state or federal borders.

law enforcement officers and other governmental officials are NOT EXEMPT!

Governor Palin would be well within her rights to ask for the trooper's dismissal, as the employment of an unarmed trooper would be a waste of government resources. Many other police departments have a blanket policy of terminating the employment of any officer that has had a domestic violence restraining order filed against them. That is the main reason why many judges do not sign these orders without a great deal of evidence that the subject of the order is a danger.

So, I ask, Why did Sarah Palin get so much flack for doing what would have been well within her rights?"

Lisa Fantino, Esq. May 18, 2009 at 5:48 pm

DD, this has been out in the open for some time but I applaud you, as always, for giving it due media attention. For quite awhile there seemed to be a rash of murder-suicides by cop right on Long Island and no one ever did anything more than report them as such… reports linking them together or wondering about the root cause. I guess it's a job that breeds that stress – sort of like going postal, no humor intended!

DianeDimond May 21, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Yeah, Lisa – its like the high suicide rate among doctors and dentists. We forget to stop and think about the stress of certain jobs and how it can make people behave in ways even THEY don't want to behave.
My worry is that we've known about this BIG BLUE SECRET for a long time (Susan Murphy Milano's case was in the 80's!) and still I'm not sure we're doing enough to stop it.
~ DD

Delilah May 18, 2009 at 7:16 pm

I think one thing that some of those commenting have missed is the fact that this article isn't about police officers, but about the partners being abused by them. Domestic abuse is bad enough in a regular household, but those being abused living with a police officer have no one to call for help. They don't have the same services available as other victims and are less likely to leave the situation because there is literally nowhere to go.

When they do take action, as in the case of Kathleen Savio, often they are ignored or minimal action is taken against the officer and the consequences of looking the other way by those in authority are often deadly.

Domestic violence is not gender specific, economically specific, nor socially specific, it's everywhere, possibly hidden behind the closed doors of someone in our own family. Society, as a whole, tends to look the other way.

By the time that we are looking for justice, another life has been lost and another family is destroyed.

DianeDimond May 18, 2009 at 7:41 pm

FaceBook Friend Joan writes:

"Great story. I would continue to pursue it as the Peterson trial moves forward. Still worry about Stacy. Have some personal experience with this issue. Good to expose what so few cop reporters are willing to talk about! for fear it will burn their sources!"

Joda May 19, 2009 at 12:46 am

Thanks for raising awareness on an important topic. There are many other circumstances that provide that added amount of protection to the perp – being a celebrity, being a doctor or lawyer or politician, having money & influence in the community, etc. For many reasons, women & children are severely disadvantaged b/c of their husbands' profession, but, yes, having a husband with weapons and friends on the force can feel insurmountable.

Jeff Liddell May 19, 2009 at 5:09 am

I can write about this subject from personal experience, one of ex wives was/is a police officer and the mother of my only son, who recently became a police officer in Bossier City, LA. As a result of this marriage, I was constantly exposed to social activities with law enforcement personnel, the police officers, the day to day trench fighters see many horrible things in a close and personal way, it has to and does effect their personality, I have seen this first hand. I can also tell your readers that most police officers do not fall in the category of domestic abusers, but when one does go off the deep end it makes for very good press and media coverage. I do not condone domestic abuse in any any form, and perhaps all cities that employ police officers who confront the gutter side of life daily should offer mandatory counseling sessions for this personnel. I tried to offer my son some advice concerning the upcoming changes that will effect him and do not be afraid to talk to me or anybody about what he sees and feels, do not let it become bottled up waiting to explode in a fit of rage at his wife or some other innocent victim. Policeman serve as a valuable buffer between good people and evil people and their lives are at risk every day they get in a patrol car. This service to community deserves and demands our respect and our support.
There are differences between psychological explosions and cold blooded killing, Mr. Peterson, in my opinion, is just a serial killer who happened to be a police officer and his actions are not the result of his community service work.

janet May 19, 2009 at 7:23 pm

I totally agree with Jeff on this one.

sharigreer May 19, 2009 at 10:23 pm

Those of us who have lived with an abusive person, know well, the silence that is kept, due to fear. We all know that Drew Peterson appears guilty as sin. He is an ass. That is a fact. He probably killed two women because they got sick of his bullying and ranting.
Unfortunately, these issues with policemen and violence are based on statistics.
Drew Peterson became a cop for power. Most that abuse, abuse for power. Period.
Thank God, it is only a few…but even that is too many.

DianeDimond May 20, 2009 at 2:01 am

Facebook Friend Ralph L. writes:

"Diane; What is crazy that's it's not a secret. The protection within the ranks of law enforcement is so common that even in the courts and more so the prosecutors office are a part of the problem. When an Officer is finally brought to justice it's well after their 1'st occurrence , whether it's domestic violence or substance abuse. In Maryland there have been many cases like the Peterson case ,that should have been handled directly.

DianeDimond May 20, 2009 at 2:05 am

Facebook Friend Bonnie B. writes:

" Diane, one police officer told me they know they can get away with just about anything and that they stop drunk driving cops all the time.
Cops must be prepared and highly trained for violence … i'm all in favor of police violence for the most part … but dont bring that crap home … i think women need to learn to be armed and never let their guard down … i'm an assault survivor … my attacker had four priors … will attack again … i won in court but not enough …
The Sheriff in Pitkin County Colorado, where Aspen is the county seat, told me domestic violence there is Aspen's dirty little secret. he is a friend and was running for office, adding that domestic violence is ANY community's dirty little secret. but i suspect many would not expect it in Aspen."

DianeDimond May 20, 2009 at 2:07 am

Facebook Reader Laura D writes:

" I worked with the Police Dept as an attorney (not in L.A.) and found them to be upstanding citizens. Incidents of domestic violence were extremely rate. Careful about generalizing too much."

DianeDimond May 20, 2009 at 2:08 am

Facebook friend Joan K. writes:

"there are many in law enforcement who uphold their oaths and fight the good fight. And then there are the rare few (and Drew Peterson is one of them) who just go off the deep end. Whether that starts before they become cops or is it the hazard of their job, I can't answer that question, but I have pondered it in my lifetime for a few years. As reporters, it does need to be discussed and looked at — especially with Drew on trial right now. But what do I know? LOL!"

sharigreer May 20, 2009 at 7:25 pm

Drew Peterson's trial will be a media frenzy because he is such an ass. Being a cop makes it even more difficult, but not impossible to bring him to justice. I haven't heard any of his
'co -cops' say a word. I can't imagine Drew Peterson being loyal to anyone….. but,
the show he 'created' will go on, and God willing, a jury will hold him accountable.

DianeDimond May 20, 2009 at 2:10 am

Facebook Friend Tina Y. writes:

" I just finished reading a book by Joseph Hosey on Drew Peterson who was a police in Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook.
In 2008, his third wife was ruled a homicide after she was exhumed and a second autopsy profound after 3 1/2 years after her death.
This occured because Drew's fourh wife went missing.
It makes me sick how he has gotten away so far … Read Morewith murder even though he has now been arrested. Things have to change for the better for police families and maybe when these jerks are caught they should be able to be tried in another state to ensure a fair trial not for them but for their families.
Disappointed with our due process."

silverside May 20, 2009 at 9:02 pm

Case in point: a woman who was murdered in my old home town. Her name was Yolanda Bindics. Was never a conviction, but lots of suspicions re a cop she had been seeing.

Lyn May 21, 2009 at 2:53 am

Talking of cops..and I digress a little…did you see that video today where 5 cops were chasing a guy and this guy crashed his vehicle and when it turned over the guy was "out of it" – well…5 – yes 5 police officers went over to this guy and kicked the s*** out of him. Now I know this guy was wrong but what the hell?? Did these 5 lousy cops not realize that they were being taped. This all happened in Jan 08 -why it took so long to come out is a mystery – but here is another example of cops thinking they are going to "get away with it" because they are cops. I thought the 5 of them were disgusting and yes the run away guy was too but to have that happen to him is disgusting, beyond disgusting. Cops in the US annoy me…they stop their cars in the middle of the road no matter what – cos they are cops no doubt – and hold up traffic for miles. You never see that in Europe. There they have the decency to park on the shoulder and let drivers pass by…I have never quite understood the American way but hey..this is America, what do I know?

Jeff Liddell May 21, 2009 at 11:31 am

I used to hate cops, and as discovered it was for no reason. Yes some become cops because of the power they achieve when wearing that badge, but the majority of them sincerely want to serve their communities. I used to dislike cops for what turned out to be
undeserved reasons. I have never seen police stop their cars in the middle of the road unless there was a specific reason for not accessing a certain area of the road that was being blocked, so I have to think Lyn's exaggerated remark is unwarranted. Having not seen the video she refers too, I can only offer that policemen in pursuit during a dangerous situation have to make very quick judgement calls and their adrenaline is pumping and they are human beings, but unless we can actually step into their shoes during a tense situation, then we should not be armchair quarterbacks when judging their actions. I am not naive, I know that police brutality exists, and I also know that many of the examples covered in the media show only one side of the story, I also know that individuals will claim brutality when in fact it was not. Police officers have targets painted on both sides, one for the bad guys to shoot at and one for the good guys to shoot at, tough job! I know when a volatile situation arises, I do not want a passive individual to respond, I was a cop with quick instincts who will jump into action without fear of doing whatever is necessary to diffuse the situation.

DianeDimond May 22, 2009 at 6:26 pm

Web site reader Mary from Albuquerque writes:


Lyn May 24, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Jef…I am not exaggerating. I live in MN and they just stop….and to hell with everyone else. I don;t get it..I don;t get how American cops think they are it and the rest of us are s**t. The cops were way out of order beating up that guy who was already out of it. It;s been on Prime news and JVM's show I think and they all agreed..the cops were WRONG! I guess Americans can;t take criticism.

clotoole June 28, 2009 at 2:49 am

Diane, Again I say thanks along with the others who have responded to your web site. I was married one time to a reserve police/sheiff. Not only was he mentally abusive to me, but abusive both physically and mentally to my 2 children. There was no sense in calling the "authorities" to help, as to them it was a laughing matter. Ha, Ha…very funny. That is just the way of the world. I know my children literally hate him now and I am glad that he left me for another. Good riddence!!!!!!!!!!, and do not let the door hit you on the way OUT.

Francine October 6, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Looking for help for my friend. Wife of a police office, abused mentally and physically for at least 18 yrs. Put gun to her head in front of her kids and threatened to kill her. He was arrested in his own precindt, but out on bail and back to work but on desk duty. She gets no help from local police. She is terrified for her life and her childrens. She has gotton restraining orders but he’s still contacting and harassing/threating. Does anyone know where she can go for help, or get someone to help her.

RealityCheck1960 November 16, 2010 at 12:04 pm

For the life of me, I cannot understand two things when it comes to domestice violence: 1) Why didn’t the victim acknowledge the warning signals? and 2) Why did it take so long for the victim to leave?

First, the relationship that she had with him prior to the abuse must have dropped hints as to how he would treat her later on. Yes, I am aware that jerks don’t wear signs however there had to have been signs that were blatantly ignored. Possessiveness and jealously flare ups are not terms of or behaviors of endearment. Those are the early warning signs. Perhaps they were ignored with excuses that she even created…”He’s had a bad day” or “He’s under a lot of pressure”. Well guess what… lots of people face pressure but that doesn’t give them right to go off on another. A mature individual will walk away, take a time–out and then return to communicate with their spouse/partner . So basically what was going on before they got hot and heavy probably just escalated once he had won her over.

Second, the bad situation is not going to miraculously get better so the wisest move is to get out. He won’t change because her presence and acceptance lets him know that he doesn’t have to. Experts have always stated that the most dangerous time for a victim is when she feels empowered to leave. Isn’t that where a proper exit plan comes into play? If an employer were treating an employee like crap the employee would plan on a job change. The employee would even utilize trusted resources.

I don’t mean to sound hard-lined or callous but the victims seem to become and remain victims much longer than they ever should have been. Love is not supposed to come with black and blue marks. If he’s giving those instead of hugs then he doesn’t love you. If someone doesn’t love you and only wants to threaten and harm then why stay with him. Kids? Finances? I get that those are components to the fear of leaving. What I don’t get is the concern over his reputation…his standing in the community and the embarrassment factor. What’s embarrassing is having to look children in the face and try to explain why mommy is taking this nonsense. What’s embarrassing is having to lie to friends/family/co-workers and make yourself appear to be the biggest klutz (tripping down stairs or walking into doors) when they known darn well that something more sinister has happened.

Perhaps wise women who left their abusers should speak up on this and give a straight-with-no-chaser account of what they would have and should have done much sooner to avoid the extended grief that was endured.

I’ll close with one last unconventional and probably controversial thought. Every family has at least one slightly off-center member who has had some run ins with the law . He is not on any sort of straight and narrow path in life. My extended family surely has a few. This family member has absolutely nothing to lose. He is the resource that I would enlist to handle a domestic violence problem if it ever occurred in my life. Cop or non-cop…the abuser would then think twice about placing a hand on another woman.

Bob May 30, 2011 at 5:52 pm

I also was a victim of abuse by my wife. She even made the comment. “Yeah, little hundred pound [insert cute little girls name], beat up 200 pound Bob.

Funnily, she left me for a cop that is known in his department as an abuser. Weird how he was never arrested or prosecuted for it. I wonder how long it will take for two abusers to start in on each other, and in this case, who’ll win? Hmm…

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