Types of Abuse

Abusive police officers use professional tactics of power and control in their intimate relationships. Not all abuse is physical violence. Lying, isolation, interrogation, surveillance and weapons are also used.

Not All Abuse Is Physical

The definition of domestic violence is "a pattern of behaviors used to gain or maintain control of an intimate partner or family member." Learning about the tactics of control that most batterers use can help you to identify that your partner is an abuser even though he has never given you a black eye or broken your bones.

Not all abuse is physical violence. Tactics such as setting you up in no-win situations, torturing you emotionally and psychologically, using your kids as weapons against you are typical tactics of control. Your partner being loving and gentle to you one moment, and then hateful and violent the next, keeps you confused and emotionally off balance. His erratic moods and behavior may make you question if he is mentally ill. He might try to convince you that you are the one who is "sick." You may find yourself emotionally hanging on by a thread, numbing your pain with drugs or alcohol. You may even at times contemplate suicide as the only way to escape.

As you read, remember that there is a very wide spectrum of abusive behaviors. Depending on where you're at, you may read about certain tactics and feel certain that your abuser would never use them against you. Or you may be very familiar with the tactics because you have already lived through most of them being used against you.

Because the level of abuse tends to escalate over time, it may help to anticipate what your abuser might do in the future. One way to know what to expect is to study your batterer's past behavior. This can help you to identify patterns and cycles that help you realize what he's capable of and also to predict what he's likely to do next. Then you can work on figuring out how you can protect yourself. It is never to your advantage to be caught off guard.

Training makes him dangerous

A police officer's training and professional status add extra levels of sophistication to his style of psychological and physical battering. It may be helpful for you to step back and see how his training and status intensify his abusive behavior in your relationship.

Power and Control

If your police officer partner is smart, he does not hit, slap, kick, choke, or otherwise physically abuse you in order to control you. He knows a physical assault can cost him his job while psychological, verbal, and emotional abuse (all effective means of control) are much more difficult to charge and prove. He exercises his power and control over you by isolating, intimidating, and terrifying you. In addition to his personal power, he has institutional power — the badge, the gun, and the support of the police department — and he constantly threatens to use them all against you.

Police officers are professionally trained to establish who's in charge using their mere presence, voice and stance. They gather information in order to gain and maintain control of a situation. They use the techniques of interviewing, interrogation, surveillance and eavesdropping to get whatever information is not given voluntarily by those involved.

The use of these techniques requires the ability to be highly manipulative and deceptive. Officers know how to get others to comply and give them what they want — control. If all else fails, they are expected to apply increasing levels of force to accomplish their task. They have mastered these skills because their survival on the job depends on them. When a cop uses his tactics and his weapons, he is intentional and his use is calculated; he is fully aware of their impact.

The techniques that enable him to establish his authority and get control on the street are the same techniques that, when used in your intimate relationship, make him extremely intimidating and dangerous.

If he walks through the front door of your home with the same mind-set he has at work, his sense of entitlement to authority and control carries over to you. He takes it for granted that he's in charge and he assumes that you do too. He is likely to interpret even a minor disagreement as a challenge to his authority and a sign of disrespect. He probably believes that he alone understands the way the world works and how people operate, and so disregards whatever you say with, "You don't have any idea what the real world is all about." He dismisses you with, "I'm not going to argue with you. I'm telling you, that's the way it is."

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Using Street Tactics


Some types of police work, such as undercover investigations, require him to tell people that things are not as they seem, but the way he says they are. To accomplish this, it is essential that officers be adept at twisting the truth, being deceptive, or lying. On the job, their personal safety may depend on their ability to look others in the eye and lie convincingly. They have to make others see things the way they want them to see things. To do this they must develop the ability to hide their own reactions, thoughts and feelings. It is likely that a police officer experiences a real sense of power in being able to get people to believe and trust him even as he's lying through his teeth.

If you ever confront your abuser with "twisting the truth" or lying to you in your relationship, he may justify having had to make things appear differently than they really were. He may claim to have lied because he knew that you "just wouldn't understand," or that the truth would only have hurt you and he wanted to protect your feelings. He may get angry that you don't trust him to know what's best for you. He may demand to know where you got the information that contradicted what he told you, and be outraged that anyone dared to "interfere" with your personal lives.


Your interactions with others are very threatening to his power over you because other people may provide a reality check that exposes his manipulation and control. He will try to keep you from seeing your family and friends so that he is your only source of information and support. If he cannot get you to stay away from others, he will somehow undermine your relationships with them. He may scare your friends away through intimidation so that if you do go to them for help, they will be too afraid to get involved. Or he may do the opposite and charm them into believing he's "a really nice guy." He convinces them that he's wonderful so that if you ever do tell the truth about him, no one will believe you. He may do all of this very gradually and subtly so that you're not aware of what's happening.

Some police officers develop an "us against them" mentality and associate only with other officers. He may warn you that "outsiders" don't understand a police family's lifestyle and values and that he expects you to keep your private lives private. He may frequently remind you that you are a police officer's wife and therefore whom you associate with reflects on both him and his department. He may tell you that since you too are a member of the police family, you have an obligation to uphold an untarnished image of that family to the community.

Though he does not want you to socialize with outsiders, he does not want you to become too chummy with other officers' wives, either. You may be expected to attend work-related functions occasionally but, of course, he will be there with you. He will probably let you know that he expects you to portray the image of a perfectly happy wife and mother (even though he feels free to make derogatory or humiliating remarks about you and/or your marriage).

Once he controls your social interactions, he has more liberty to regulate your experience and to define your reality. He can choose what information he wants you to have and present it to you as being objective, logical, and reliable. He may slowly convince you that your own perceptions, thoughts and intuitions are purely subjective, emotional and unreliable. He may insist that things didn't happen the way you remember, that he didn't say nor do what you claim he did. He confuses you with his lies and manipulations until you no longer trust your own sense of what's real. He tells you that you're stupid or crazy when you argue to defend your own thoughts and feelings. Your isolation deprives you of anyone else's reflection of who you are, and so you may begin to believe that what he says about you is true.


Some police officers become distrustful of everyone and everything because many of the people they deal with are deceitful. Your abuser may frequently imagine that you are hiding something from him, typically an affair (often with another police officer). He may become obsessed with finding out what you're doing behind his back.

In police style, he may interrogate you. He might confine you in the bathroom or bedroom so that you can't leave and accuse you of whatever it is he has imagined that you are doing, then go on and on firing questions at you. When you try to answer, he'll refuse to listen to what you have to say and insist that you are lying to him.

While civilian victims talk about their abusers giving them "The Look" to let them know he's "had it," police victims talk about "The Voice." This is the "command voice" that cops are trained to use when stopping people on the streets. Your abuser might use "the voice" when he gets in your face and screams degrading names at you to humiliate you. He may say that "you're just like the rest of them" and, "you act like that, I'll treat you the way I treat the ______ on the street." He may keep this up for hours, until out of shear exhaustion or frustration you end up "confessing" to something that you didn't do just to put an end to the grueling ordeal.

Sexual abuse

The accusation that you are betraying him by having an affair is a psychological and emotional form of sexual abuse. So is encouraging you to dress in a seductive manner when you go out with him, and then insinuating that you dress that way to attract other men. Sexual abuse also includes criticizing you to make you feel sexually inadequate, or forcing you to do sexual things that you don't want to do. He may imply that if you do not perform sexually as he wants you to, he will be forced to go other women for sexual satisfaction.

If he sees women as sex objects that exist solely for men's gratification, he is probably into pornography. After viewing a pornographic movie, he might demand that you reenact things that he's seen. He may believe that he has a right to your body whenever he wants it, however he wants it. If you do not willingly cooperate, he may force you. He may rape you to confirm that you belong to him.

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Misusing "Tools of the Trade"


If your batterer is convinced that you are having an affair or doing anything else he doesn't know about, he might use his police training and equipment to keep you under surveillance. If he's a patrol officer or a detective he has a lot of freedom, mobility and flexibility while he's on duty. He may randomly stop by your home or workplace just to say hello. He or his buddies might follow you or frequently drive past your house. They can run the license plates of your visitors to find out whom you're with and to get information about them. They can follow you in their squad cars, sit in their unmarked cars outside your home for hours, or use binoculars to watch you from a distance.

If your abuser has access to more sophisticated equipment he can put a tracking device on your car. He can tap your phone or use his police scanner to eavesdrop on your conversations. Eventually you may begin to believe that he is everywhere and knows everything that you do. You may wonder if you're getting paranoid. You become afraid that you will never be able to escape his vigilant watch.

Physical Abuse

If these methods fail to achieve the level of control and "respect" that he craves, he may resort to physical violence. His police training taught him how to use his body — his hands, elbows, legs and knees — as weapons. He knows techniques that inflict great pain yet leave no bruises or broken bones. He might use the "tools of the trade": devices such as handcuffs, his boots or his gun.


A lot of cops wear their service weapon all the time. The constant presence of weapons scares women who have never been battered. If you have been battered, you know the gun is a constant reminder that he could end your life at any moment.

He might brag that he could easily shoot you and make it look like a stranger did it, or like you committed suicide. He might taunt you to use the gun to kill yourself or him. He may play Russian roulette, holding a partially loaded gun to your head and pulling the trigger. He might toy with his weapon to intimidate you during or after an argument or episode of violence.

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Psychological Tactics

Death threats

He might tell you that the only way you can survive is if you stay with him — your life is in his hands. Batterers frequently warn, "If I can't have you no one will," or "If I ever find you with another man, you're both dead." He may remind you that you took marriage vows to be together "until death do us part."

Your batterer may swear to kill himself if you ever leave him. Or he may threaten to kill anyone who helps you leave. He'll say that if anybody else gets hurt it will be your fault. He might graphically describe his plans to kill your children, your parents, or friends. Or, he might describe how he'd set them up by implicating them in a crime or by planting drugs on them. He may warn you that "accidents happen" — people get hit by cars, houses burn down, cars explode.

He assures you that he will never be caught because he knows just how to do it, or he'll have someone else do it for him. Fearing that he is capable of carrying out his fiendish plans may stop you from going to anyone you know for help.


Your abuser knows it is never smart to admit to brutality. His police training taught him to hold the suspect responsible for the level of force used in any altercation. He also learned that he is expected to use whatever level of force necessary to gain compliance. Not knowing this, you may be stunned when, after he hits you or beats you he asks, "Why did you make me do this to you?" According to him, it wasn't his choice to hit you. You made the choice when you pushed him too far.

After he has bruised and otherwise injured you, he may tell you that he didn't hit you that hard, you bruise too easily. (You're too sensitive.) He may simply deny that he hit you at all and say, "I didn't hit you. I don't know what you're talking about." (You're crazy.) Or he may minimize the abuse saying, "You don't know what abuse is. I'll take you to the morgue and show you what abuse is." (You're lucky.)

Your abuser may go to the other extreme. He may break down sobbing after he's beaten you. He'll say he can't believe what he's done and beg you to forgive him. He'll plead with you not to tell anyone that he did this to you. If you tell, it could cost him his career. He may cry, and plead, and beg, and promise that he'll never, ever, raise his hand to you again. He'll promise to do whatever it takes to get his temper under control — he'll go to counseling, stop drinking, go to church, stay off drugs. He'll say that he just "lost it." It wasn't the real him who did this to you, he was beside himself.

Calculated Behavior

Most victims ask if the abuser knows what he's doing. The answer is "yes." The police abuser, even more than a civilian abuser, knows exactly what he wants to accomplish and how to do it.

Even though many options available to civilians are not available to you, once you really know who you're up against, you will be able to plan what you need to do to protect yourself. The next section, "Breaking Your Isolation," discusses several of these options and their advantages and disadvantages.

Excerpt from Police Domestic Violence: A Handbook for Victims. Diane Wetendorf, ©2000, 2006, 2013 All rights reserved.

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