Who’s really in danger from Domestic Violence – NFL families or Law Enforcement families?

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I just returned from an extended vacation overseas and was dismayed by the media attention surrounding the NFL and domestic violence. My question to not just the public and media is why are you up in arms now, when domestic violence has been a societal issue impacting many professions, and all our communities – not just professional athletes – for many years? Domestic violence has long been a crisis in all our communities. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline:

“On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States – more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year.”

Statistics from this hotline are startling, and reflect that intimate partner violence (IPV) is at epidemic proportions in our society and takes a toll on both men and women without prejudice.  I am not minimizing the violence that occurred in these NFL scandals, but I do have many concerns over the media hype surrounding professional athletes and their personal lives. I don’t view athletes as role models any more than I view entertainers that way, as these men do not have the ability or the power to govern nor enforce law.

I hold that those who work in the criminal justice system or who are our elected officials should be role models as they hold a sacred trust to the public.  The very nature of their jobs demands that they be held to higher standards in their personal lives as well.  According to a Conor Friedersdorf, whose recent article in The Atlantic, “The Police Have A Much Bigger Domestic Abuse Problem than the NFL,” pointed out that incidents of domestic violence in the NFL are “less common than in the general population” … and yet headlines scream that we must solve the problem among football players, while completely ignoring the same problem in the police community.

Like the author, I’m not opposed to accountability for Ray Rice and understand the importance of appropriate and swift criminal sanctions in domestic violence cases.  Some of my worst nightmares have resulted from seeing too many men, women and children victimized not just by their abuser, but at times by a system that was unable to protect them from further injury or death.  Yet the media has long ignored many studies that, according to the author, reflect a level of violence in law enforcement families that surprised even me.

According to The Atlantic “The  National Center for Women and Policing noted in a heavily footnoted information sheet,”

“Two studies have found that at least 40 percent of police officer families experience domestic violence, in contrast to 10 percent of families in the general population. A third study of older and more experienced officers found a rate of 24 percent, indicating that domestic violence is two to four times more common among police families than American families in general.”

Law enforcement intimate partner violence is complicated by many issues which have been identified by researchers to include an addiction to violence for some officers and authoritarian spillover from the job.  Officers identified as most likely to commit domestic violence included both patrol or narcotics officers (see – yet another reason to end the drug war!) But what much of the research reflects is that domestic violence is vastly under-reported in law enforcement families due to many factors that include stigma, shame, fear, isolation and the cultural tendency of law enforcement to protect its own.

Many victims (including in cases that I have handled) stated that when your spouse carries a gun that there is an inherent understanding that you may not want to anger them, or call the cops. In the Atlantic article the author cites several high profile law enforcement related homicides turned suicide, committed by both male and female officers. It’s not the gender, but the presence of weapons, that makes law enforcement domestic violence even more dangerous.  As a result, in 1997, the Domestic Violence Gun Law Ban was passed in an effort to protect all victims of IPV which did not include exclusion for law enforcement.

This federal law banned those convicted of domestic violence from owning or possessing any firearms.  A consequence of the Lautenberg Amendment forced agencies to remove an officer from duty immediately prior to adjudication, as they are unable to perform their duties, and if convicted of domestic violence they would lose their ability to retain their job.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that the law is bad, or that officers should not be fired for beating their spouses but this law has contributed to the under-reporting by victims and law enforcement agencies alike.

But it’s not just the under-reporting that damages law enforcement credibility but the fact there is little national oversight and accountability.  As an example, statistics out of Florida law enforcement reflect that officers are more likely to be fired from positive drug tests than for beating a loved one.  Sounds eerily familiar to this recent headline about the NFL’s discipline process that also shows the misplaced priority of punishing players more harshly for positive marijuana tests than for domestic violence.

While the media and public pressure has forced the League to adopt new policies, the pressure is misdirected and ignores the damage to law enforcement families caused by ignoring the same behavior in our own criminal justice professionals.  So, this Sunday I will still be watching NFL football and will not be outraged by the behavior or conduct of the players off the field.  What I will be outraged at is the apathy towards the issue of violence in law enforcement.  Isn’t time that the public and the media ask that if we can’t or won’t protect our own law enforcement families from domestic violence how can we be entrusted to protect and serve our communities?


About Diane Goldstein

Diane Goldstein is a 21-year veteran of law enforcement who retired as the first female lieutenant for the Redondo Beach Police Department, (CA). She is a speaker and Executive Board Member for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and a member of the Moms United To End The War on Drugs Steering Committee. She is a guest columnist for a variety of publications as well as appearing on television , and on radio as a political commentator.