Police Wife: The Secret Epidemic of Police Domestic Violence

shutterstock_96168818Domestic violence takes place in up to a staggering 40 percent of law enforcement families, but police departments mostly ignore the problem or let it slide, write ex-police wife Susanna Hope and award-winning investigative journalist Alex Roslin in their new book, Police Wife: The Secret Epidemic of Police Domestic Violence. The following excerpt is adapted from their book, available on Amazon or as an eBook from their website, and is being published as part of the Ms. Blog’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month series.

In 2009, in Utica, New York, police Investigator Joseph Longo Jr. killed his estranged wife, Kristin Palumbo-Longo, stabbing her more than a dozen times in their home, then stabbed himself to death. One of the couple’s four children discovered the horrifying scene on coming home from school that afternoon.

Utica’s then-Police Chief Daniel LaBella said the killing was completely unexpected—an incident “no one could have prevented or predicted.” But Kristin’s family filed a $100-million wrongful-death suit saying city and police officials didn’t do enough about Longo’s troubling behavior before the tragedy.

Kristin had contacted police at least five times in the weeks before she was murdered, saying she feared her husband might kill her and their kids, but police supervisors discouraged her from making reports or seeking a protection order, the lawsuit said. In a preliminary ruling, a federal judge agreed that the police actions may have “enhanced the danger to Kristin and amounted to deliberate indifference.” The city settled the suit in 2013, paying the couple’s children $2 million.

The murder wasn’t an isolated tragedy. It was unusual only because it was so public and so bloody. A staggering amount of domestic violence rages behind the walls of cops’ homes, while most police departments do little about it. In the vast majority of cases, cops who hurt a family member do so in utter secrecy, while their victims live in desperate isolation with very little hope of help. Research shows:

  • An astonishing 40 percent of cops acknowledged in one U.S. survey that they were violent with their spouse or children in the previous six months.
  • A second survey had remarkably similar results—40 percent of officers admitted there was violence in their relationship in the previous year. The abuse rate for cops is up to 15 times higher than among the public.
  • Police discipline is startlingly lax. The LAPD disciplines cops with a sustained domestic violence complaint less strictly than those who lie or get in an off-duty fight. In the Puerto Rico Police Department, 86 percent of cops remained on active duty even after two or more arrests for domestic violence.

It seems incredible that a crime wave of such magnitude and far-reaching social ramifications could be so unknown to the public and yet at the same time an open secret in a mostly indifferent law enforcement community. It is surely one of the most surreal crime epidemics ever—at once disavowed, generalized and virtually unchecked.

Aptly summing up the bizarre disconnect, retired Lieutenant Detective Mark Wynn of the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department in Tennessee told PBS in a 2013 story on the issue: “What’s amazing to me is we’re having this conversation at all. I mean, could you imagine us sitting here talking about this and saying, how do you feel about officers using crack before they go to work, or how do you feel about the officer who every once in a while just robs a bank, or every once in a while decides to go in and steal a car from a dealership? We wouldn’t have this conversation. Why is it that we’ve taken violence against women and separated that from other crimes?”

Domestic violence is bad enough for any woman to deal with. Shelters, many of them chronically underfunded, regularly turn away abused women because they’re full, while only about one in four incidents in the wider population ever get reported to police. Hundreds of U.S. communities have adopted “nuisance property” laws that encourage police to pressure landlords to evict tenants who repeatedly call 911 over domestic abuse, further dissuading victims from seeking help.

But abuse at home is far worse for the wife or girlfriend of a cop. Who will she call—911? What if a coworker or friend of her husband responds? Police officers are trained in the use of physical force and know how to hurt someone without leaving a trace. They have guns and often bring them home. And if a cop’s wife runs, where will she hide? He usually knows where the women’s shelters are. Some shelter staff admit they are powerless to protect an abused police spouse. Her abuser may have training and tools to track her web use, phone calls and travels to find out if she is researching how to get help or, if she has fled, where she went.

In the rare case where the woman works up the nerve to complain, the police department and justice system often victimize her again. She must take on the infamous blue wall of silence—the strict unwritten code of cops protecting each other in investigations. The police have a name for it—extending “professional courtesy.” In the words of Anthony Bouza, a one-time commander in the New York Police Department and former police chief of Minneapolis, “The Mafia never enforced its code of blood-sworn omerta with the ferocity, efficacy and enthusiasm the police bring to the Blue Code of Silence.”

It all adds up to the police having a de facto licence to abuse their spouses and children. And it’s a worldwide phenomenon that police families struggle with everywhere from Montreal to Los Angeles, Puerto Rico, the U.K., Australia and South Africa.

The torrent of abuse is virtually unknown to the public, but without realizing it, we all pay a steep price. Domestic violence is the single most common reason the public contacts the police in the U.S., accounting for up to 50 percent of all calls in some areas. Yet, a battered woman who calls 911 may have a two-in-five chance of an abuser coming to her door. Official investigations have found law enforcement departments that tolerate abuse in police homes also mishandle violence against women in other homes.

Abusive cops are also more prone to other forms of misconduct on the job—such as brutality against civilians and violence against fellow officers. We all pay as taxpayers when governments have to settle multi-million-dollar lawsuits with victims of police abuse or negligence. Police domestic violence also has close connections to a host of other problems—police killings of African Americans, sexual harassment of female drivers at traffic stops and women cops, and even more broadly, issues like growing social inequality and subjugation of Native Americans.

And police officers themselves are victims, too. Even though our society calls cops heroes, we give them little support to cope with the pressure of police work. A big part of the job is to wield power to control other people. As a result, policing attracts people who are good at controlling others or may have a craving for that kind of power—and then trains them to use their power better. Control is also the main driver of domestic violence. Is it a surprise then that so many cops are violent at home?

Support the Ms. Magazine Prison and Domestic Violence Shelter Program today and show women fleeing domestic violence that they’re not alone.

Photo via Shutterstock

Susanna Hope (a pseudonym for security and privacy reasons) is a Canadian professional writer who was married for over 20 years to a police officer. She has two sons and two grandchildren.

Alex Roslin is an award-winning Canadian journalist who was president of the board of the Canadian Centre for Investigative Reporting. His investigative and writing awards include three Canadian Association of Journalists prizes for investigative reporting, a gold prize in the National Magazine Awards and nine nominations for CAJ awards and NMAs.

Comments

  1. Wish you gave some helpful advise as to what we can do for the victims!

    • Hi Shawna,

      Thanks for your comment. We could only include an excerpt from the book. Police Wife itself has more than 60 pages of appendices giving advice and resources to survivors, family and friends plus recommendations for advocates, police, governments, journalists and researchers.

      In order to help survivors and others, we’ve made virtually all of the appendices available for free through our website: http://policewife.org/products/police-wife-secret-epidemic-police-domestic-violence. Here is the direct link to this extended free excerpt: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1YX72AsAKMUZTdKVlUzY2ZQN1E/view?pli=1.

      Best regards,
      Alex

      • Hi again,

        I wanted to give an update to the links above. The book has now been published in an updated and revised second edition. It’s available on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0994861761.

        A free extended excerpt of the second edition is available here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1YX72AsAKMUVHBMRFhMbDlFbVk/view.

        The first edition won the American Society of Journalists and Authors’ Arlene Book Award for Writing that Makes a Difference! You can also check out my “Police Wife” page on Facebook.

        Best regards,
        Alex

      • My husband is a police officer and is emotionally and sexually abusive. He bit me last night and broke the skin. He has been placed on leave for his anxiety and stress….but he is getting worse. I am scared to death to seek help. Everyone thinks he is this super hero. Please help

        • Cindy hi. I just saw this site because I too am married to a cop, and the last 10 years have been miserable. He seemed nice for years, but once on the department for about 5 years, things changed. I have experienced physical abuse that he says never happened, or if he admits in anyway, anything…he says, “you caused it to happen”. I have experienced verbal abuse, that has included telling me how much he can’t stand me and wants to leave me for the last 10 years. During the 10 year period ther have been bouts where things are better, which is why I have hung-in there, thinking maybe there is hope. The physical abuse has completely stopped for the last year. If your husband is biting you, and is getting that violent you need to keep your distance, somehow. You cannot trust him. If he did that, he will do more. My husband usually shoved me, or used “police holds” (so sick) on me, and would call me the “aggressor” for even speaking. That’s how twisted it has been. Scary. You may have to really leave. I would hold back your interactions with him, all while acting the part that all is okay….while you make a plan to get out.

        • there are literally NO support groups..at least not that I have found. jlondonheart@gmail.com

      • I’m the victim in Houston, Texas. It’s hell. They know how to gaslight you. How to scare you. They have all their buddies even attorneys. I’m getting out but if I make it through alive it will be a huge blessing. He won’t let go. The jealousy is off the charts. Couple that with a cop who has masters degree training on how to control you psychologically and physically. His buddies follow me even though he was fired and has his peace officers license taken away forever. I never knew what I was getting into. I’m an educated and successful woman and I have been reduced to nothing. This is real. Stop covering it up.

        • Kathy I am living in the same hell. I left my house for good January 1. It’s has been a nightmare. I’m so scared for my life. He doesn’t play by the rules. He has said many time that being a police officer has taught him how to be a good criminal and get away with it. He always says to me I could kill you and make it look like an accident and it would be my friends investigating. And laugh. All the time. While playing with all his guns. I am now in the fight of my life and possessions in this divorce. I have a masters degree and teach high school. How did I let him do this to me???

    • S.L. O'Brien says:

      I read this book, it gives you the tools to help victims, the power to change the system. This epidemic has so many layers to address. From the individual LEO’s. DA’s, Legislation, Media and the Police Union.
      The book shows suggestions you can write to those in a position to overhaul the system. We have to put the pressure on.

    • survivor of OIDV/A says:

      google search Diane Wetendorf. She is the reason my kids and I are out. She is still the only REAL source of usable information I have found. Almost every other resource or information I have found references her work.

      • Please help. My daughter is married to a PO and the abuse has been covert – sexual, emotional, psychological – intimidation, coercion, control, etc etc My daughter has PTSD as a result. We cannot get help. I cannot locate Diane Wetendorf – I tried. I read her information but I feel like we need a real live person to help us. Every place we turn, this serious situation is minimized. The victim getting re-victimized. The police stick together and the legal system protects these criminals. The rape crisis team never returned our call as they said they would. I am horrified when people suggest there is no abuse unless there is physical abuse – most police officers stop short of physical abuse bec they know there will be evidence. We live outside of Boston. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

        • I am going thru a divorce with my husband now because, after 15 nonviolent years, he lost all control and beat me severely. For 13 years he was a peaceful wonderful man. But that 13th year there was an incident at work which he mentally couldn’t withstand. For 2 years there were too many times when I thought “omg is he going to hit me????”, when he finally did that was it. After the incident, after he was calmed down and apologized, i went yo the batjroom, took pix of my beaten bruised still bloody face neck and body, drafted an email to the 3 big local news stations, attached the pix i had just taken of my brutalized self, went to my hisband with my phone in my gand and thumb over the send button, explained what i had done and said “you got exactly 1 minute to get out and never come back. If you take 1 step towards me i hit send, if your still here in 61 seconds i hit send. Send one of your blue blood buddies to get your gun, get out NOW.” I KNOW I have no protection and no rights as the wife of a police officer. 3 calls to 911 and I still don’t have a docket number for any of those calls.
          Unfortunately, in my opinion, the only chance your daughter has is to go stay with another survivor of officer involved domestic violence like me in another city. Using a friend’s computer with a temporary email post on Craigslist in different cities explaining the situation and ask for help. We are out there and we will help her. But we cannot put ourselves at risk by advertising it, or by taking in a woman who isn’t prepared to cut all ties for the 1st two years.
          I HOPE he doesn’t ever lay a hand on her. But given what you’ve said it seems he’s already on that road and it’s only a matter of time. Anyone reading this may think I’m being unreasonable by suggesting it’ll go that far. But your talking about abuse. Deep down women like me, you and your daughter are waiting for it to happen but HOPING it wont. Frick all that action. Live better than that. Get her out before he does hit her. She’d be changing her life for the better regardless.
          I’ll be looking on cl in the community/general section. Good luck.

        • Her links are on Facebook

  2. I saw this for myself once. As a victim of domestic violence, I started going to group counselling with other ladies who were still victims as well. One lady there was a police officer’s wife, and she had it worse than the rest of us. Police would not arrest her abuser and provided protection for him when she went before a Judge and civilly had charges brought on him. He was allowed to work even though charged, and when he would breach the restraining order, there was no consequences etc… they treated her like a liar. There needs to be better training for police officers when dealing with domestic violence and its victims. Police need better care, like mandatory counselling and workshops. Police stations and its officials should have a no-tolerance attitude for police officers who abuse their partners/children. Maybe if Police Chief’s etc did not allow these things to occur the 1) their employees would act in accordance to the law even if the abuser is a fellow officer and 2) victims would be safer 3) victims would be able to seek help and know they would receive the help 4) Police stations would be able to get rid of officers who are not suitable to be in a position of power, like those who are abusers. Change would have to start with awareness, like this article then progress to internal reviews/investigations and then, Police Chief’s who change how their station and employee’s deal with this situation for the better.

  3. I don’t see a link to share this article on Facebook, and I don’t see it on Ms Magazine Facebook page. Am I missing something?

  4. It is unfortunate and ironic at the same time that the people you are expecting to protect you would be the same ones who would get you hurt. Even if the children got paid, I don’t believe that money could remove the trauma and pain they have suffered. My thoughts and prayers go out to the children of families who are suffering from domestic violence. They are the most affected.

  5. This is all too real. My husband is actually in the military and I have never been able to get help. As a matter of fact one day he shattered 2 of my bones and protecting myself I cut him. A very small stupid cut. Not a stab. Not tons of blood. No a cut with my damn fingernails. He went to the ER. I went to jail. Theu wouldn’t even check my face. I called the police about once a month for 5 years just trying to find help. There was never proof. He wouldn’t just choke me. He would stick his fingers down my throat until I passed out. No one ever has cared to this day they still dont. I left him 2months ago cuz i have a baby to think about now but daily I get text from him threatening me and our baby. All he has done to me and I’m the one with a felony now. Just sick. The system is ran by powerful narcistic men and us women will never be protected until we stop being afraid and stand together. I struggle daily and don’t know what to do. I don’t respond to my husband and they refused me a protective order from just text being evidence. I’m just heart broken that me older generations the younger generation and my own baby girl and that generation will have to go through this and it’ll only get worse. We need to do something. I think it starts with society throwing away and burning their gender role non sense.

  6. Sarah - Policewivesmatter says:

    I appreciate being able to read this article. I have been separated from my husband for three years who will NOT work with me in getting a divorce, yet his girlfriend has been living with him in the house that he and I both own since I left. He was chief of police in a small town but is now a deputy for the county. I could tell numerous stories of abuse to me and the kids but it would be futile right now. My concern is that since I moved, even after 3 years he still uses his authority against us. He routinely runs a check on my 20 year old son’s license plates and my son lives in another city over an hour away, attending college. If he is doing that to him, then he is doing that to me. Several local men have told they are afraid to be seen talking to me in fear that he will harass them by pulling them over randomly. Even though I moved to a different town and I am letting my middle son finish high school here (2 more years), my husband contacted local police, who in turn pulled in front of my house at 11:30 pm and shined his spotlight in the living room where the kids and I were watching tv. He then pulled in the street behind my home and did the same to the back of my house, holding the spot light there. He always makes up a story to make it appear he is “taking care of our safety” and of course he is such a nice guy and hero to the community.

    • Yes, I totally understand you. My abuse is still the chief of a small police department. He’s been a abusing women for years. At first I thought it was his ex. The one that abused him . That was his story.. He was such an ice guy, he lives a fan club such a model citizen. How is this possible ?? They broke an oath, more importantly they broke the law! He emotionally and verbally abused me for years, I think that did more damage to me then the actual phystcal abuse.

  7. I was also a victim of this crime. I was a police officer myself when it started out and went to my chain of command for help to no avail. I left my husband, we got counseling and I left the agency to same our marriage and raise our children. Within a short period of time, the violence began again. This time my doctor saw the bruising. I had already left my husband, but by law the police were brought in. I WAS PUT THE WRINGER! (So were my children.) They attempted to have me arrested on allegations of not leaving soon enough for the safety of my children (re-victimizing the victim.) Despite the fact they never charged my husband. I filed an IA against him and of course, the department found the allegations were without merit. I had “friends” at the department before the IA who knew about the previous violence and seen the bruising. The all lied in his defense. And the chain of command denied my having come forward in the first place.

  8. need help in Denver, CO says:

    if anyone knows of any lawyers in Denver, CO who will help me – my husband is in law enforcement – and abused me and when I called the police, the arrested ME! I went to jail and now need help in court so I won’t have a domestic violence and harassment on my record!

  9. SilentNoMore says:

    This also happened to me. In an 8 year period, the police came to our home 12 times. One time, he kicked to door in and the other, there were visible hand prints around my neck. He was never asked to leave the home; so, I took my children and fled to a county an hour away where the local sheriff protected me. On two different occasions, my ex-husband showed up at my home and tried to gain entry. The local department came out and served him with criminal trespass warnings. Today, he is living with his girlfriend who is a convicted felon on probation.

  10. Wow, isn’ this whole thing unbelievably gross. These individuals are suppose to be ‘trusted upstanding citizens’ who protect the harmed and innocent. Just gross. And, I am not going to allow myself to stereotype police officers because of the few ‘abuse of power’ cops. I left mine 3 years ago. He is still on my case even though he is now remarried. I honestly am sorry for this young lady he married who is niave with her two young boys moving in with this covert abuser. Through this time i have learned a few things that have helped me survive. All of our stories are different, but also very alike in the nature of it all. I am also a licensed therapist, so I am privy of the personlity disorder types (perhaps all abuser’s fall under some spectrum of personality disorder, though). Here’s what i learned : If you have not left your abuser and WANT/NEED to- then find a trusting therapist who is familiar with abuse, trauma, and NPD (narcissistic personality disorder), If you are divorcing then get an attorney especially if you have children (cant afford one? locate local attorneys and inquire pro bono services. Any representation is better than none. or at the very least get a public defender), create an escape plan (collect important papers like SS cards, and birth certificates for you and children, collect important emergency contact numbers/family/friends, begin to research where you will go (family/friends home; shelter; hotel; another city,church etc.), pack a bag with the minimum essentials for you and your children (weather approapriate clothes, shoes, socks, hygiene products, etc.), begin to talk to family and friends about the situation (not the plan! but just informing them things are not right with you and partner and you may need some help)… Have you left? Here’s what i learned: Allow minimum conversation b/w you and partner, talk only through text, do not use his name as the contact name on the text only the number (some attorneys will only consider text communication if the number is available), screen shot texts showing abusive language, especially in the beginning if its difficult to discuss plans for the children with your ex partner then create a group text b/w you, your partner, and a trusted family or friend so more people are aware of the abusive language, do not engage or respond to abusive language- let him sit with his insult wondering if you even care, if at all possible get surveillance cameras for your home, if you are with the abuser in person- have your phone with you and start ‘video’ while talking (do not allow the abuser to know video is on, maybe put it in your pocket), ….it’s about collecting evidence.. becuase, if your abuser is still being abusive despite you moving out, then he’s clearly not done with the abuse. I am so sorry to hear any of these stories posted and happening. We are tremendously brave! Don’t forget your saving grace through the horrible trauma and escape is INFORMATION ON ABUSE AND SUPPORT FROM TRUSTWORTHY PEOPLE! I promise the abuse quiets as the abuser gets bored because you have become confident and empowered in yourself.

  11. Chris GIlbert says:

    Facebook won’t let me share this article!

  12. Yorkshire lass says:

    Good god this is still going on in this day and age !! Thirty years ago I was married to a policeman here in England , I suffered a badly broken nose simply for standing up to him following many years of mental and physical abuse.He was manipulative,moody,terribly bad tempered and demanding and I still bear scars both physically and mentally today.He eventually turned on one of our sons when he was 9years old and systematically beat and kicked him in the head. Now there are three things that must be noted here ,a six foot 2inch policeman ,a five foot three inch female and a young child ,it is common knowledge that men such as this are cowards ! If my ex had been challenged by a six foot man he would have been scared to death. Once he had laid his hands (and feet) on my son I thought enough is enough.However , I still continued to be very frightened of him for years, I lost my home because at that time British policeman lived in local government housing ,I left with two children , a dog ,cat and not much else ! All my family lived over a hundred miles away and I was totally on my own.All the other police families around us knew what was occurring,this even included a sergeant and a chief inspector,not one of them stood forward and reported him l This was simply because it was accepted behaviour and the police covered up for their own,it wasn’t just me who faced this treatment,I knew a number of other police wives who had been regularly beaten and treated appallingly.It is covered up simply because of who they are and how bad it looks to the public ,it is pushed “under the carpet” so to speak.I continued to be intimidated after leaving the family home,I even had friends who hid in my pantry when he visited incase he turned nasty ,and to witness his verbal abuse ! I was so demoralised,depressed and frail both physically and mentally ,just how he wanted me to be ! I’ve since realised what a totally selfish, immature and irresponsible person he was and still is.He still only ever thinks of himself and his needs and always will ,it’s always everyone else’s fault and never his own and he constantly needs attention from everyone around him.Over the subsequent years following our divorce I was left to struggle financially and brought our children up singlehanded,I didn’t receive any pension rights whatsoever.However ,I am proud to say both my children have grown to be fantastic parents and this is something I’m very proud of.I do know if I had the spirit I possess today the outcome would have been totally different,he would be reported and charges of assault made against him. I just think of him now as a pathetic ,weak and sad human being who can’t hack family responsibilities.I guess what I’m trying to say to all you ladies suffering abuse at the hands of so called ‘upright citizens ‘ is get help in any way you can, don’t let them intimidate you .Get away from them as soon as possible and never go back especially if you have children, it isn’t fair on you or them ,remember violence can breed violence and become an accepted norm !

  13. My ex husband actually shot me with his duty weapon , (no bullets of course) but I was bruised. He would always take things from the place he raided in undercover raids and brag on them at home. I peed myself when he shot me and he laughed at me. He told me no that piece of paper could keep me safe, and would often spit at me, and physically hurt me. At one point I ran to a safe house, I was still so ill that I was afraid to get a restraining order. After the fact, he promised me that he was sorry, and committed to therapy, which later he divulged it was my fault. I was still ill and went back to my abuser and because he was afraid of getting caught, and I was still hopeful, he tried to protect himself at any cost. My life became a horror movie written by him. I am blessed to have survived. The Ocean county prosecutor knew he had three weapons not registered but let him sell , give away, destroy them. By the grace of God I was able to even the odds just enough to escape with my sanity, civility, and credit. With this type of situation you do not win, but once you are enough way from him to be “you” you can with God’s help create a new life.

  14. can any of you come together to support women?

  15. May I speak without being judged here? I have been dating a LEO now for over a year. We have known each other since we were children. But, boy did he really hold back some dark lies and secrets. I moved back into my home but continued to give him a second chance only for him to suddenly become a massive outrageous jealous man who in one day called and texted over 23 times. He accused me of cheating because I had an odd facial expression on my face over a text. Really?? So, that doest mean I’m cheating. I always make weird faces. He then states all LEO have PTSD and he is no exception. He needs help and if we get our relationship together he will get help. But, he has never loved anyone as much as me. This is all new. He is jealous of me and he can’t help it. Well I can’t live like I’m on egg shells. I’m scared for my life.

    • Jealous does not mean love. Maybe you can find temporary job in another country. Or stay at your relatives in another country where he has no authority. He “loves” you because others don’t give him second chances. That is what he is attracted to. You can spend more time with your relatives and be busy. Let him see that you are leaving him not because of another guy. He does not love you. You are his narcissistic supply.

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