Crossing the Threshold: Female Officers & Police-Perpetrated Domestic Violence

Diane Wetendorf, ©2006 All rights reserved. Available through Amazon and SmashWords


Diane Wetendorf captures the mentality of police who are perpetrators of domestic violence, showing that their victims, particularly when they are female officers, are the least understood and most endangered of all domestic violence victims. In this most insightful book, she sets forth how police are a world unto themselves and how their brotherhood protects batterers within their ranks. - Joan Zorza, Esq., Editor, Domestic Violence Report

Finally, a book that nails the dirtiest secret in policing. This is the best-researched book on the police spousal abuse issue I have ever read. Remarkable! Wake up criminal justice leaders - now the public knows what really goes on, and the truth can't be hidden any longer. - Amy Ramsay, Ph.D. , Founding President Ontario Women in Law Enforcement

Women police officers face a unique set of challenges that their male colleagues never have to confront. Those who choose to make a life for themselves with their male contemporaries encounter hurdles that are excruciatingly difficult to overcome. This book is a must-read for anyone looking to gain a greater understanding of this difficult issue. - Frank G. Cousins, Jr. , former Sheriff Essex County (Mass.)

Diane Wetendorf has been the pioneer in dealing with the problem of violence in law enforcement families. Women across the nation have turned to Diane for help when the entire criminal justice system turned its back on them. Diane has bravely documented and talked about the extraordinary challenges these victims face when the violent perpetrator is a law enforcement officer who is armed and has friends in the criminal justice system. Every police chief and sheriff should read this book." - Penny E. Harrington, Founding Director, National Center for Women & Policing

Domestic violence in the police family has been a silent cancer for too long. This book is a cold, hard look at that reality. As a 31-year veteran of the police profession, it was hard to read a book which paints such an unfavorable picture of my fellow officers. To those who hide behind their badges, I hope you are caught, prosecuted, and your badge taken so you have nowhere to hide. - Commander, State Police Internal Affairs

Reading this book was quite an education for me. Diane Wetendorf captures the mentality of abusive men with incredible accuracy and illustrates the critical role the abusive cops' allies play in enabling the abuser to manipulate the victim and maneuver the criminal justice system. It is the urgent responsibility of chiefs and police supervisors to educate themselves and eradicate police-perpetrated domestic violence. - Lundy Bancroft, author of "The Batterer as Parent" and "Why Does He Do That?"


It is always a volatile situation when a police officer is the perpetrator of domestic violence; it is an explosive situation when both the perpetrator and the victim are officers. Fully comprehending the dynamics of the situation takes more than understanding Domestic Violence 101. It requires understanding how completely males dominate the profession of policing, and how they have used the institution and culture of policing to preserve and protect male dominance both within the profession of policing and within larger society.

What is different about this book is that it examines how male police officers' institutional power within society and within the police ranks filters down into the intimate relationships of police officers, and why the institution has historically ignored or denied police-perpetrated violence against women. We will begin with a brief look at the history of policing, particularly how the profession has treated black and female officers. Next, we will explore the institution of policing - its culture and how individuals are indoctrinated, accepted, or rejected based on their acceptance of the culture. With such background, we will finally look at domestic violence in the ranks, exploring how the players in the criminal justice system not only ignore domestic violence, but collude with the abuser. We will discuss the impact of community-based advocates losing independence as they depend more on government-based funding. Our conclusion will show that female officers are basically left without resources. It depends on all citizens, not just those in law enforcement, to effect change.

Members of law enforcement have long referred to themselves as the police family. They equate the love, concern, and protectiveness that bonds together all those who wear the badge to the love, concern, and protectiveness that bonds members of biological families. The police family, like many biological families, maintains its privacy by abiding by the absolute rule that "What happens in the family stays in the family." The loyalty, solidarity, and privacy of the family must be impenetrable. This loyalty and solidarity, surrounded by a wall of privacy, protects the family from outside influence and intruders. It also leaves family members extremely vulnerable to one another. The mandate to keep what happens in the family private forbids members to reach out for anything, especially for protection against one's own.

Because of the insularity of the police culture and the unique demands of the profession, female officers tend to date and marry male officers. These dual career couples live under a double mandate for privacy: that within their personal relationship and that within the police family. We have no way of knowing how many female officers are victims of male officers, but current statistics estimate 30% of women in the general population will experience domestic violence; and research on police families reports the incidence to be as high as 40%. At current staffing levels, this means 26,800 to 36,700 female officers may be domestic violence victims. Because of the insular nature of the culture, its masculine-identified values, and the power that the institution of policing wields, these victims have little or no protection from their abusers. To whom can an officer-victim appeal if the very institution to which she belongs colludes with her batterer?

Certain members of the male population have always used violence against women to maintain power and control within their personal relationships and, by extension, within society. Because police agencies recruit from the general population, we can reasonably assume that some of these recruits also use, condone, or will use violence against women because there is no reliable way to screen them out. However, one of the main differences between domestic violence in the general population and officer-involved domestic violence, is that the police family managed to keep it hidden from the public for a longer time. Though there has been some acknowledgment that police-perpetrated domestic violence is a problem, many police agencies continue to deny or ignore it.

The blue wall of silence has prevented, and continues to prevent, any honest examination of police-perpetrated domestic violence. The system doesn't want the public to see how the institutional police family responds to domestic violence among their own - whether an officer is the perpetrator or the victim. They don't want the public to see the ways in which the attitudes of the police, fortified by police power, undermine society's efforts to hold batterers accountable in the criminal justice system. The institution of policing cannot afford for the public to understand the ways in which the male-dominated culture of policing fosters sexist attitudes that contribute to the psychological, sexual, and physical violence that controls all women in our society - both civilians and officers. Ensuring that "what happens in the family stays in the family" is essential for the institution to continue preserving and protecting its own immense power.

The wall is beginning to show hairline cracks. Some police agencies are beginning to acknowledge, at least internally, that the problem exists. Some have implemented policies, protocols, and officer training on officer-involved domestic violence since amendments to the federal gun law created new liability issues for agencies who employ convicted batterers. Some agencies are proactive; others have reacted in the aftermath of a tragic incident involving an officer.

Police-perpetrated domestic violence, like domestic violence in the general population, is so entrenched in the police culture that it is foolish to think that we can simply begin where we are today and ignore its deep historical roots. Police agencies must identify and examine the deeply ingrained beliefs, values, and attitudes that have condoned and perpetuated violence against women for centuries. Acknowledging the problem, writing policy, and training officers are all steps in the right direction, yet they do not substitute for a true understanding of the issue and will not bring about substantive change.

Although it is true that not all men and not all male police officers perpetrate or condone violence against women, it is also true that most men do little or nothing to stop those who do. If most male officers do not condone other male officers' use of violence against women, why don't they stop them? Why don't police officials who direct the activities and priorities of law enforcement make police-perpetrated domestic violence a top priority? Why don't male police officers hold each other accountable and ostracize those officers who use violence against women just as they ostracize police officers who violate other cultural norms? Why do so many men in power accept male violence against women as if it is as natural and inevitable as the weather?

Women do not have the power to stop men's violence. Only men have that power. Males, including male police officers, frequently complain that they resent being included in the group of men who use violence against women. They accuse those of us who hold men responsible for domestic violence of reverse sexism and they are quick to point out that women are violent too. Domestic violence advocates and victims try so hard to avoid these accusations that we find ourselves not being able to speak candidly about the issue. The issue is male violence. If we must speak about violence against women in apolitical - mistakenly referred to as politically correct - terms, we cannot honestly speak about it at all.

Any discussion about domestic violence and males' power and control over women is bound to be volatile. This is an emotionally charged issue that involves belief systems about gender roles, social order, and protection of power. The ideology of sexism and racism are embedded in the foundations of our major societal institutions and are cornerstones of the criminal justice system. Throughout history, people have used ideology to bolster and protect power. Ideology has the advantage over logic in that it doesn't require reason or facts. It justifies its own existence. The following chapters will reveal the precarious position we find ourselves in when reason, ethics, and facts do not guide the actions and decisions of those in power, but what does guide actions and decisions is the protection of male power.

Available in print through Amazon and as ebook on SmashWords

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