The spotlight of the O.J. Simpson trial in the 1990’s helped to further pull back the curtain on the problem of domestic abuse in the United States. While the issue is ages old, this incident brought the issue to the forefront and new strategies began to be developed to combat this scourge. Domestic violence knows no economic or societal bounds and typically stays hidden in the shadows of one’s home. Law enforcement officers are not immune. Data suggests that police officers are two to fifteen times more likely (depending on the study) to become personally involved in domestic incidents versus the general population. While these numbers seem high, police officers are certainly in an at-risk category due to the stress of the job, changes in personality over time, and the culture of silence within the profession. Strategies such as annual training, early warning programs, and peer counseling can help mitigate some of the risks of officers becoming involved in domestic incidents.
Most police officers must attend annual in-service training in order to maintain their certification in their state. The Memphis Police Department requires that officers attend Domestic Violence training as part of this in-service training. This training teaches strategies to avoid becoming either a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence. Officers are taught to recognize the warning signs of volatility in a relationship. Officers must recognize their own stress that they are experiencing from the job and learn methods to cope. Officers face life and death situations nearly every day and the stress of those encounters can build up over time. We must recognize changes in our own personalities and relationships that may signal a compounding of this stress. When officers recognize they are in a volatile situation, it is always better to remove themselves from it instead of allowing it to continue to escalate.
While training is valuable, there should also be early warning programs that can signal when officers are beginning to have trouble. Programs such as Blue Team are good for tracking potential issues within a department’s ranks. If supervisors notice more use of force incidents than normal, increased disciplinary issues, or other out of the ordinary incidents with a particular officer these tracking programs can allow for early interventions. The officer may not be having any personal issues; however, the supervisor can take the time to talk to the officer. Many domestic related problems with officers have been discovered within our department through implementation of these interventions. Officers can be referred to Employee Assistance Programs to obtain the counseling and other tools needed to overcome.
Finally, the Memphis Police Department has implemented a peer counseling program. Officers are trained as peer counselors to be available if officers feel the need to talk to someone to whom they can more closely relate. Officers can personally reach out to one of these counselors that they may already have a relationship with, or they can contact them through a phone call and request support. This is not just a reactionary program. These counselors are also trained to recognize when an officer may be exhibiting signs of struggles. Peer counselors are encouraged to reach out and provide support to those officers. Whether a peer counselor or not, all officers should be encouraged to notice signs within our fellow officers that suggest problems. We should be our own greatest support.
Domestic Violence is a tough issue to tackle due to the fact that it is hidden within our own homes. As law enforcement officers we must do all we can to steer clear of falling into these potential pitfalls. With increased training, recognizing early warning signs, and supporting our own, law enforcement can stay on the right side of this issue.