This week an Atlanta police officer was arrested for starting a violent altercation with his former partner and a third police officer while the couple was exchanging custody of their child.
This story brings to light an important aspect of domestic violence that is often misunderstood or ignored. Often, when a woman leaves an abusive relationship, she must still co-parent children with a violent partner with whom she would rather have no contact. Batterers often use custody/visitation exchanges to continue to harass their former partners. In fact, according to research compiled by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, fathers who batter the mothers of their children are twice as likely to seek sole custody of their children.
Our call to action has to do with the offender's status as a police officer. According to the National Center for Women and Policing, domestic violence is 2-4 times more common among police families than American families in general. Domestic violence is always a terrible crime, but victims of a police officer are particularly vulnerable because the officer who is abusing them:
- has a gun,
- knows the location of the domestic violence safehouse(s), and
- knows how to manipulate the system to avoid penalty and/or shift blame to the victim.
These suspicions are well founded, as most departments across the country typically handle cases of police family violence informally, often without an official report, investigation, or even check of the victim's safety. This "informal" method is often in direct contradiction to legislative mandates and departmental policies regarding the appropriate response to domestic violence crimes. Moreover, a 1994 nationwide survey of 123 police departments documented that almost half (45%) had no specific policy for dealing with officer-involved domestic violence. In that same study:
- 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.
Additionally, when individuals are convicted of family violence, their right to carry a firearm is supposed to be revoked. In the case of law enforcement, that would mean that the officer would lose his job.
We are calling on our community to monitor this case to make sure that this batterer is held accountable, regardless of his law enforcement status. Additionally, if he is found guilty, we want to ensure that he loses his weapon's permit. We will continue to provide updates on this case and any actions that you can take to be sure that the victim in this case receives justice.