She 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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?