Do 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence? It's complicated

Former Lindon police officer Joshua Boren, who murdered his wife, two children, and his mother-in-law before turning the gun on himself. (File photo from 2014: KUTV)

A study claims that 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence, but where is that number coming from?

A meme circulation on Facebook is making the claim based on that study, but is it accurate?

The answer is complicated.

2News did some digging and found it comes from two studies done in the early 1990s which were highlighted by the National Center for Women & Policing.

The claim from a heavily cited report from the National Center for Women & Policing cites the studies; one done in 1991, the other in 1992.

Recent data about police officers and domestic violence is scarce, meaning finding accurate statistics is complicated.

"Two studies have found that at least 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence, in contrast to 10% of families in the general population," the National Center for Women & Policing says. "A third study of older and more experienced officers found a rate of 24%, indicating that domestic violence is 2-4 times more common among police families than American families in general."

The study says the number is concerning considering spouses and children of police officers have "unique vulnerability."

That's because of three things, the study says:

  • The officer who is abusing them has a gun
  • The officer who is abusing them knows the location of battered women's shelters
  • The officer who is abusing them knows how to manipulate the system to avoid penalty and/or shift blame to the victim

There have been multiple recent cases of domestic violence among police officers, including one notable case in Utah.

In 2014, Lindon Police officer Joshua Boren killed his wife, his two young children and his mother-in-law before turning the gun on himself.

The gun he used was his service weapon.

Reports indicated Boren and his wife had experienced "marital problems" recently before the murder.

Also in 2014, an officer in Colorado shot and killed his wife before turning the gun on himself.

In 2003, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame shot and killed his wife in a parking lot while their children were nearby. He then shot and killed himself.

A more recent study, done in 2013, noted the lack of data surrounding police officers and domestic violence.

That study examined 324 cases of domestic violence involving officers.

It found that 281 officers from 226 law enforcement agencies were actually arrested for domestic violence.

"Some of the officers had multiple criminal cases and/or multiple victims. There were 70 OIDV [officer-involved domestic violence] cases during 2005, 116 cases in 2006, and 138 cases in 2007. The percentage of total police crimes that were OIDV cases remained relatively stable from 2005 (17.2%) to 2007 (16%)," the study says.

Of all the cases, police officers who were arrested, charged and convicted of abuse, more than half kept their jobs.

The study done by the National Center for Women & Policing says domestic violence cases are under reported:

"Victims often fear calling the police, because they know the case will be handled by officers who are colleagues and/or friends of their abuser. Victims of police family violence typically fear that the responding officers will side with their abuser and fail to properly investigate or document the crime."

The National Center for Women & Policing also says many police agencies often handle these cases informally, "often without an official report, investigation, or even check of the victim's safety."

A 1994 nationwide survey of police departments , done by the Arlington, Texas Police Department and Southwestern Law Enforcement Institute, found that 45% had no specific policy for dealing with domestic violence involving an officer.

Other findings from that study, according to the National Center for Women & Policing, include:

  • The most common discipline imposed for a sustained allegation of domestic violence was counseling.
  • Only 19% of the departments indicated that officers would be terminated after a second sustained allegation of domestic violence.

You can read more about the study here.

If you, or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, you can contact the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition online, or by calling: 800-897-LINK.


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