Ann Arbor, Michigan - While much has been made about the "blue wall of silence" among police officers, a new study suggests that officers don't turn a blind eye when other officers perpetrate domestic violence.
In such cases, police officers are most inclined to obtain a detailed history of the violence, link victims with domestic violence programs and encourage them to file a formal report, according to researchers at the University of Michigan and Florida State University.
"We were encouraged to see that officers made help for the victim their highest priority," said Daniel Saunders, a professor at the U-M School of Social Work and the study's lead author. "We were also encouraged that officers were oriented to the facts of the case rather than being influenced by officers' personal traits."
In 1999, as a response to the special safety concerns for victims of officers' abuse, the International Association of Chiefs of Police created a model policy for police departments to follow. However, little research has been done on the topic.
Saunders collaborated on the study with doctoral student Stephanie Grace Prost and professor Karen Oehme of Florida State's College of Social Work. They asked more than 1,100 police officers to respond to two case scenarios of police officers stalking or assaulting their spouses.
"Arrest became a likely response after officers were asked to imagine they witnessed a victim's injuries and heard the victim say she'd been choked by her partner," Saunders said.
Officers' next most common response was to refer the offending officer for help, specifically to an employee assistance program or mental health counselor and, to a lesser extent, to the department chaplain. Prost says that such referrals are useful but raised some concerns.
"Employee assistance programs rarely have special services for domestic abuse offenders and chaplains are not usually trained to respond to domestic abuse," she said. "Referrals for couples counseling made by officers are also a concern—severe cases need to be screened out and the focus needs to be on the violence."
Professional characteristics, such as being a supervisor, more consistently determined officers' responses than personal characteristics, such as age, race, gender and marital status.
"Police supervisors had more responses supporting victims than front-line officers, suggesting to us they may be very qualified to train the front-line officers in their departments," Oehme said.
Although officers responded to written case scenarios rather than actual cases, the researchers say that such scenarios are usually good measures of behavioral tendencies.
The study was published in the recent issue of the Journal of Family Violence. It is one of a series of studies on the National Toolkit on Prevention of Officer-Involved Domestic Violence sponsored by the Verizon Foundation and located at the Institute for Family Violence Studies at Florida State's College of Social Work.