Peace Officer Family
Peace Officer Family Violence Prevention and Recovery Project
Audrey L. Honig
Steven E. Sultan
Abstract: This article presents information regarding the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s
Department’s current efforts to establish a policy and procedures for handling family
violence complaints involving sworn members of the Department. This article also
discusses internal programs and mechanisms necessary to ensure the efficient and
consistent implementation of the Department’s domestic violence policy, as well as
training, including early identification and intervention designed to both prevent and
remediate situations that might otherwise lead to family violence.
KEY WORDS: police domestic violence, prevention, recovery.
Address correspondence concerning this article to Audrey L. Honig, Ph.D., Employee
Support Services, 4700 Ramona Boulevard, Monterey Park, California 91754.
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PEACE OFFICER FAMILY VIOLENCE PREVENTION AND RECOVERY PROJECT
Police administrators and executives in agencies of all sizes throughout the country
recognize the phenomenon of domestic violence in peace officer families. Many law
enforcement agencies, however, do not yet have comprehensive policies or procedures
for handling family violence complaints against the peace officers they employ. With the
passage of federal legislation prohibiting ownership of firearms by individuals convicted
of even misdemeanor family violence offenses with no exemption for police officers
many agency administrators and managers recognize the need for such policies and
procedures, and seek sources of information and expertise to aid in their development.
One such source, the International Association for Chiefs of Police (IACP), has
developed a model policy outlining procedures concerning peace officer involved family
violence incidents ready for implementation by law enforcement agencies. Other
sources include individual law enforcement agencies themselves, who have already
implemented their own policies and procedures for this purpose.
BACKGROUND
A considerable body of literature spanning the past twenty years clearly documents
the high rate of marital discord or dissatisfaction in law enforcement relationships. This
provides an indication that violence occurs in at least some portion of these
relationships, (Honig & White, 1994). Several recent studies, using separate samples of
peace officers responding to anonymous self-report questionnaires, report that between
24% and 49% of respondents acknowledged at least one incident of physical
aggression toward their marital partner within the year previous to responding to the
questionnaire (Neidig, Russell, & Seng, 1992a, b).
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The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has committed itself to the
development of a comprehensive program to address these issues for two reasons. A
growing body of research literature indicates domestic violence in law enforcement
families continues as a significant and ongoing problem. Recent federal legislation
basically precludes law enforcement agencies from continuing to employ an officer in a
sworn capacity if he/she commits a family violence related offense. Additionally, police
personnel may handle family violence calls in the community similar to situations in their
own homes. Problems in the peace officer’s home likely affect how the individual
handles a family violence call in the community (e.g., minimal empathy with, or
contempt for the victim, minimizing seriousness of the assault, lax handling of the
perpetrator). On the other hand, handling family violence calls in the community can
jeopardize the safety of law enforcement personnel and/or adversely affect the quality
of their own family life.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has adopted a multidimensional
approach to address the dual problems of violence in peace officer families and the
handling of family violence calls in the community. The literature strongly endorses such
an approach indicating the need for programs within police agencies. A comprehensive
program emphasizes treatment for personnel and their families and a number of proactive measures, including mandatory training in family violence issues and appropriate
handling of such calls in the community, training supervisors in techniques for
identifying family violence problems among personnel, and providing training programs
focusing on stress, anger management, and conflict resolution. Some researchers
consider the development of appropriate policies and procedures for assisting
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personnel and their families with violence problems and for handling such calls in the
community as perhaps the most critical pro-active measures, (Neidig, et al., 1994).
CREATING AN EFFECTIVE APPROACH TO A SOLUTION
The dual issues of family violence among its personnel, as well as how its personnel
respond to such calls involving peace officers or members of the community at large
confront all law enforcement agencies. Effective handling of these problems requires a
strong commitment by the agency’s top administrator and the executive management
team to address these problems with both pro-active and remedial approaches.
Creating a multi-disciplinary team drawn from experts within the agency and from the
community promotes a broad-based approach to problem solving. It also reinforces the
message within the agency and the community at large concerning the agency’s
seriousness about addressing these problems.
Historically, law enforcement agencies have slowly and reticently recognized family
violence related problems among their own personnel. As a result agencies have often
ineffectively dealt with such problems. This has impacted the effectiveness of officers’
responses to domestic violence calls in the communities they serve.
THE STOP FAMILY VIOLENCE TASK FORCE
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department created the STOP Family Violence
Task Force (Safety through Our Perseverance) in response to the need for a
comprehensive and multidimensional approach to the problem of violence in peace
officer families. Commissioned at the highest level of departmental administration, and
chaired by executive level personnel, the task force brings together expertise from a
variety of operational units within the department to develop policies, procedures, and a
Peace Officer Family
variety of program strategies for assisting personnel and facilitating effective
management of family violence calls in the community at large. Members of the task
force come from such units as Risk Management, Employee Support Services (the inhouse psychological service), Ombudsperson, Advanced Training, Internal Affairs,
Juvenile Investigations, Legal Counsel, Grants Unit, Video Production Unit, the
Community Law Enforcement Partnership Program, the Mental Evaluation Team and
members of other operational field units currently dealing with problems of domestic
violence in the community.
In addition, the Department created a community based advisory committee,
drawing participation from the L. A. County District Attorney’s office (particularly units
involved with the witness/victim programs), Department of Children and Family
Services, Department of Adult Services, Probation Department (Domestic Violence
Unit), U.S. Attorney’s Office, and members of non-profit community agencies and
councils concerned with family violence in the community, and with providing shelters
and services for family violence victims.
Some outside members of a task force or advisory committee may experience
skepticism because the internal structure and operations of law enforcement agencies
do not lend themselves to understanding by outside organizations, particularly nongovernmental agencies. Many outside organizations doubt law enforcement agencies
can tackle their own internal problems, especially those problems involving violence
issues. However, because outside organizations involved with victims' issues can
readily see the benefits to the community, chief law enforcement executives can
overcome such skepticism. Active and sincere law enforcement involvement from the
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top echelon promotes support and cooperation by outside agencies.
THE FAMILY VIOLENCE PREVENTION AND RECOVERY PROJECT
A task force such as the STOP Task Force requires individuals with expertise in
dealing with the problem of family violence both as it may affect agency personnel and
as a problem in the community served by the agency. The remainder of this article
focuses on the necessary components of a comprehensive program for coping with the
problem of family violence as it affects law enforcement personnel and their families.
The Family Violence Prevention and Recovery Project at the Los Angeles County
Sheriff’s Department evolved in the Employee Support Services Unit under the
auspices of the STOP Task Force. The goals of the program focus on prevention, early
intervention, and treatment assistance for personnel and their families. In order to
achieve these goals, program objectives include development of appropriate policy and
procedures for handling family violence incidents involving agency sworn personnel,
education and training programs concerning the dynamics of family violence for all
levels of agency personnel, and a system of treatment options offered to personnel
either internally and/or externally through outside counseling agencies with expertise in
family violence treatment issues for both offenders and victims.
DEVELOPMENT OF POLICY AND PROCEDURES
Any policy and supporting procedures designed to deal with the problem of violence
in the families of sworn personnel must clearly state a zero tolerance for such behavior
by members of the agency. Typically, the highest levels of agency administration must
approve policy. As such, zero tolerance becomes the position of the administration. Any
ambiguity in the position taken by the administration makes the implementation and the
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enforcement of the policy more difficult and less effective. The goal of the policy must
not only emphasize zero tolerance for domestically violent behavior, but also must
recognize agency members as potential victims of domestic violence. Female officers
may warrant particular notice. You cannot assume a woman trained in self-defense and
the use of firearms incurs no risk as a victim of domestic violence. Anyone can suffer
domestic violence, even a male police officer.
Procedurally, an effective program spells out the responsibilities of personnel at the
field, supervisory, and management levels with regard to responding to family violence
incidents involving a sworn member of the agency, or when such an allegation
concerns a sworn member of the agency. We recommend having a field supervisor
respond to the scene of an incident alleging family violence involving department
personnel. This can ensure adherence to appropriate procedures, including
notifications made within the agency and follow-up investigations either criminal and/or
administrative, as indicated. Often the presence of a field supervisor can also increase
the sense of safety for the victim/family members and facilitate obtaining assistance for
them (e.g., counseling, shelter services, temporary restraining orders, etc.).
The agency’s policy should also include procedures for obtaining, or at least
requesting, notification from other law enforcement agencies should one of its members
be involved in an incident of alleged family violence in another jurisdiction. Reciprocal
arrangements for notification with other jurisdictions ensure the agency’s awareness of
one of its sworn members committing a domestic crime.
In an effort to assist employees and hopefully prevent conflicts having the potential
to escalate into family violence, agencies should consider making counseling
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assistance available to members of their department.
Education and Training
Implementing policy and procedures as described in this article requires a
commitment to disseminating information to agency employees, as well as providing
education and training. Aim efforts at not only educating and training agency members
regarding the agency’s policy and procedure, but also regarding exactly what behaviors
constitute family violence offenses, and regarding the dynamics of violence in
relationships. Make training for sworn personnel mandatory, and include all levels of
management and administration. Tailor the training to meet the needs of different levels
in the agency’s hierarchy. Schedule training separately for field and line personnel,
supervisory personnel, and management and administrative personnel. Although the
training in the dynamics of family violence need not differ for the various levels of
personnel, separate training allows more individualized focus with regard to each level’s
responsibilities for dealing with incidents of alleged family violence involving agency
members according to the agency’s policy. Additionally, separate training allows for
personnel at the supervisory level and above to receive information that can assist them
in recognizing the early signs and symptoms of possible family violence problems
among the personnel in their command.
Disseminate information regarding agency policy, and the agency’s commitment to
assist those members experiencing such problems, through the use of brochures,
booklets and newsletters. These methods might include mailings to the residences of
agency members in an attempt to ensure that family members and not just the agency
employee has access to the information, particularly regarding the department’s zero
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tolerance policy and sources for victim assistance both within and outside the
department.
Efforts to educate agency employees and family members regarding possible
precursors to family violence may be offered in seminar format on a voluntary basis.
Such meetings may be scheduled at varying times of the day to allow attendance of
agency employees and family members who work shifts other than day shift. Make
prevention and early intervention the goals of such an education effort. Topics for these
seminars should include peace officer stress and its effects on the family, child custody
issues, managing family finances, anger management, and substance abuse as well as
family violence.
COUNSELING AND TREATMENT ASSISTANCE
Most law enforcement agencies currently provide counseling assistance to
personnel involved in shootings and other critical incidents. Use such resources for
arranging programs to assist those personnel and their families having problems related
to family violence. Treatment programs may vary somewhat but usually are consistent
on certain critical issues. Treatment usually involves both individual and group
counseling. Anger management training comprises an important component of
treatment for offenders. Rarely are victims and offenders treated for anger
management together in the same group. Typically this should not occur. Marital and
family therapy constitute viable treatment options only when the victim’s safety and
security are assured.
Counseling and treatment intervene in the cycle of violence delineating this
problem. These programs assist personnel in developing more appropriate conflict
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resolution skills. Unfortunately, by the time most individuals come to counseling, an
offense has already occurred. Often an extensive history of violence exists.
Consequently, within the context of a law enforcement agency, it becomes imperative to
identify personnel who may need treatment assistance before an arrest occurs, both for
the sake of the victim and the peace officer’s career. Publicize the availability of
treatment and counseling within the agency, and assure all personnel seeking
assistance of the confidentiality of your procedures.
CONCLUSION
The time has passed in which any law enforcement agency can turn a blind eye to
the problem of violence in peace officer families. Substantial liability issues face
agencies failing to address the problem formally with policy and training. A single
conviction for a family violence offense can end a peace officer’s career. Furthermore, it
is unlikely a law enforcement agency will effectively handle such problems in the
communities it serves if it does not understand the problem or, unknowingly, allows
personnel with similar problems to handle such incidents in the community. Law
enforcement agencies are committed to the task of apprehending offenders and
protecting the innocent against victimization. As such, agencies must realize peace
officers and their families have no immunity to problems of family violence. Such
offenses by sworn personnel against a spouse or relationship partner remain
intolerable. The families of police officers deserve the same protection afforded any
other member of the community. A program such as the LASD STOP Family Violence
Task Force deals directly and effectively with law enforcement domestic violence
issues.
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Declaration of NIJ Assistance
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Family Violence Prevention and
Recovery Project is funded in part by a grant from the National Institute of Justice, U.S.
Department of Justice, Grant # 97-FS-VX-0003. The points of view expressed in this
article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the
U.S. Department of Justice.
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REFERENCES
Honig, A. L. and White, E. K. (1994). Violence and the law enforcement family. In J.
T. Reese and E. Scrivner, (Eds.), Law Enforcement Families: Issues and Answers. (pp.
101-109). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Justice. U.S. Govt. Printing Office.
Neidig, P. H., Russell, H. E., and Seng, A. F. (1992a). Interspousal aggression in
law enforcement families: A preliminary investigation. Police Studies: The International
Review of Police Development, 15 (1), 30-38.
Neidig, P. H., Russell, H. E., and Seng, A. F. (1992b). Interspousal aggression in
law enforcement personnel attending the FOP Biennial Conference. National Fraternal
Order of Police Journal. Fall/Winter, 25-28.
Neidig, P. H., Russell, H. E., and Seng, A. F. (1994). Observations and
recommendations concerning the prevention and treatment of interspousal aggression
in law enforcement families. In J. T. Reese and E. Scrivner, (Eds.), Law Enforcement
Families: Issues and Answers. (pp. 353-358). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Justice.
U.S. Govt. Printing Office.
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Peace Officer Family Violence Prevention and Recovery Project