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February 13, 2006

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Richard Davis, ALM Understanding Domestic Violence
with Richard Davis, ALM

Proactive domestic violence intervention for LE families

Scientific empirical studies document that domestic violence is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon. There is no single cause and no single cure. I have noted in a number of my previous columns that law enforcement families are confronted with more difficulties and needs than the general population. Far too many law enforcement domestic violence programs and interventions remain negative and reactive rather than positive and proactive.

Programs and interventions for law enforcement families need to be open, honest, unbiased and based on empirical studies not ideologically held beliefs. Some of my previous columns document the often ignored but essentially important distinctions between "battering behavior" and "family conflict" and a number of National Institute of Justice (NIJ) sponsored studies that document the need for change.

The National Research Council in its online publication, "Advancing the Federal Research Agenda on Violence Against Women [http://www.nap.edu/catalog/10849.html,] in its executive summary under prevention and treatment clearly documents that:

  • As previous National Research Council committee found, the design of prevention and control strategies - programs and services available to victims and offenders that aim to decrease the number of new cases of assault or abusive behavior, reduce the risk of death or disability from violence, and extend life after a violent event - frequently is driven by ideology and stakeholder interests rather than by plausible theories and scientific evidence of causes.

Domestic violence advocates and professionals who continue to ignore the findings in the above online report are doing a disservice to themselves and those they provide programs and services for. Law enforcement leaders should be aware of this report and demand that all domestic violence interveners have also read it.
  
Stakeholder Interests

The National Center for Women and Policing (NCWP) "Police Family Violence Fact Sheet"
(See it here), similar to many other domestic violence organizations, is not as "factual" as it needs to be and it truly needs to be "factual" if it intends to affect positive proactive programs and interventions for law enforcement families.

The NCWP "fact sheet" reports there are two studies that have found that 40% of law enforcement families experience domestic violence in contrast to 10% for families in the general population. The studies the "fact sheet" references are L.B. Johnson, (1991) "On the front lines: Police stress and family well-being." Another is Neidig, P.H.., Russell, H.E. & Seng, A.F. (1992) "Interspousal aggression in law enforcement families: A preliminary investigation."

The NCWP "fact sheet" reports that there is an older study that documents that among more experienced officers the rate of domestic violence is 24%. This study is P.H. Neidig, A.F. Send, and H.E. Russell," (1992) Interspousal aggression in Law Enforcement Personnel Attending the FOP Biennial Conference." It seems apparent that who ever is responsible for the NCWP "fact sheet" that they not taken the time to read the studies they cite.

It is universally agreed that to provide proper programs and interventions in general, there must be recognition and an agreement concerning what the problem is before the programs and interventions are designed to meet the needs andspecifics of that problem.

The "Facts" About The Studies Cited by NCWP

It is apparent that the Johnson study suffers from basic methodical flaws. To begin with the Johnson study is a survey not a scientific empirical study. In fact the Leanor Boulin-Johnson survey is designed to measure the results of "stress" and not "violent incidents." Just a few flaws of Johnson survey are:

  1. It does not differentiate between family conflict, abuse, or battering behavior.
  2. It ignored differentials concerning how minor or severe an individual incident is.
  3. There is no control group, regardless of how inconclusive the information is, to be compared with.
  4. It is not a survey about "violence."
  5. A violent beating carries as much weight as a simple loss of temper in anger.

The first "study" by Neidig and his colleagues is also a "survey" and not an empirical scientific study. The Neidig survey contains many of the same methodological flaws as the Johnson survey. The Neidig survey claims as a validation for its outcome, that the spouses of all the officers who reported at least one "incident" in the last year also confirm that the "incident" did occur. However, nothing specifically defines the "incident" as an act of "violence."

The survey is not a survey of "violence" or "violent incidents." The survey includes as "violent incidents" a one time push, shove, shout, loss of temper, or an incidents where a spouse acted out in anger. The main surprise is that the percentage is as low as 40%. It is difficult to find a family, inside or outside law enforcement, where similar incidents do not occasionally occur.

The second study by Neidig and his colleagues is also a survey. This second survey was of higher ranking officers while they were attending a conference. The NCWP "fact sheet" reports that the results were lower (24%) than the previous survey. The NCWP "fact sheet" does not document that the 24% data is reported by the male officers. This same survey also reports the fact that 22% of the female officers reported one "incident" in the last year.

The Greatest Failure

The NCWP "fact sheet" claims that the "domestic violence" incidents reported by law enforcement are far higher than the general population which the NCWP "fact sheet" documents as being 10%. The NCWP "fact sheet" attributes that 10% figure to the Straus, M. & Gelles, R. (1990) study, "Physical violence in American families - risk factors and adaptations to violence in 8,145 families."

The NCWP "fact sheet" avoids documenting that the methodologies used in the Straus and Gelles survey are dramatically different and far more empirically scientific than the Johnson and Neidig et al surveys.

The NCWP "fact sheet" does not mention the findings by Straus and Gelles report women are as violent as men toward their spouse. The NCWP "fact sheet" also does not inform the reader that its sponsor, the Feminist Majority Foundation, has for years refuted the results of this Straus and Gelles study.

The NCWP "fact sheet" does not report that the findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey document that the design of survey questions has more of an effect on intimate partner violence disclosure rates than does the overall context in which the survey is presented. View the survey

Conciliation not Confrontation

The above data documents that law enforcement officers and their families, concerning "domestic violence." have been inadequately studied and often carelessly reported. How can there be disagreement about domestic violence before agreeing just what domestic violence is?

Having domestic violence advocates, researchers and others argue about a phenomenon that remains a different phenomenon to different people who then measure that different phenomenon with different methodologies is illogical and irresponsible. And yet the debate continues!
 
It is also difficult for law enforcement families to understand why the majority of domestic violence advocates staunchly defend their decision to allow victim's when they want to report their abuse and when they want to leave that relationship, while the same advocates often refuse to extend those same rights to law enforcement families.

Mandatory arrest, no drop prosecution and zero tolerance policies can be as "disempowering" as they are "empowering" and disempowerment can be characterized as "re-victimizing the victim." Domestic violence advocates should treat law enforcement families the same as they do other families. Many families in crisis, law enforcement included, do not want their spouse to be fired. Many families want services and support not arrest and sanctions.

There are now a number of NIJ studies that document that mandatory arrest, no drop prosecution and zero tolerance policies can act as impediments to many families who want to control the when, where and how of intervention, counseling and assistance.

Also troubling is the fact that spouses who do want to leave, may hesitate because they will lose the financial and health benefits provided by their law enforcement spouse if their spouse is fired. This, as some NIJ studies document, may cause some family members to continue to hide their problems rather than seek the help they need, and the abuse will continue.

Many contemporary domestic violence advocates believe that empathic and sympathetic interventions that offer choices to spouses and family members will open the flood gates for a return to the days when complaints were ignored, whitewashed and swept under the rug.

The fact is that some NIJ studies, as mentioned in previous columns, document the opposite may take place. Perhaps advocates might consider the dramatic difference between law enforcement departments that do not offer positive proactive wellness interventions and the departments that do.

Studies now document that the contemporary "one-solution-fits-all-victims/offenders" punitive only intervention, zero tolerance policies, ignoring the wants and needs of those being abused,mandatory arrest polices, no drop prosecution and the Lautenberg Amendment can discourage not encourage, officers, their spouses and their children from seeking the help they want and need.

Proactive Policies

Certainly nothing can prevent deaths, physical assaults regardless of severity or prevent lawsuits from being filed. However, this does not mean that attempts should not be made. Having in place positive proactive polices, procedures and protocols will go a long way toward raising morale, saving families, minimizing deaths and reducing liability concerning domestic violence issues.

All of the following recommendations do not need to be adapted to current policies, however, continuing to ignore these recommendations may produce devastating results for law enforcement agencies, officers, their spouses and children. These recommendations are meant to augment not replace interventions in place, many of which are mandated by state statute law.

  1. Law enforcement must provide lengthy, intensive and independent psychological and intelligence comprehension testing before hiring. 
  2. If there is documentation of any psychological problems or "battering behavior" the applicant must be turned down. Mental health is more important than physical health and there is no room in law enforcement for "batterers."
  3. Law enforcement must provide a "partner wellness" educational program for all employees (officers and civilian personnel) and encourage their spouse or partner to attend. The program must be an open and honest assessment of the many difficult issues the criminal justice system and contemporary "one-size-fits-all" domestic violence laws present to family health and well being.
  4. All employees and family members must be provided free of cost with the names of qualified professionals they can confidentially and confidently turn to when difficult family issues arise, regardless of how minor the issues may seem. These professionals must be open, honest, holistic and not ideologically based.
  5. Offices must be advised that if they do not take advantage of these positive and proactive opportunities then it is the officers and not the department that has chosen the contemporary standard negative and reactive intervention process.

About the author

Richard L. Davis completed studies in criminal justice management at LaSalle University. He has a graduate degree in criminal justice from Anna Maria College, and another in liberal arts with a concentration in history from Harvard University.

Contact Richard Davis.






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