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Feminist Majority Foundation Chat Series of 2003

Renae Griggs, Executive Director
National Police Family Violence Prevention Project

Renae Griggs, Executive Director of the National Police Family Violence Prevention Project will be answering questions from Friday, May 2 - Friday, May 9 about the issue of police family violence. This "Q&A" was set up in response to the recent case where Tacoma, Washington, chief of police David Brame, whose history of domestic violence was revealed, shot his wife and killed himself the following day. The day before the shootings, Mayor Bill Baarsma said the allegations were a "private matter" and Tacoma City Manager Ray Corpuz told the Post-Intelligencer that he was "not interested in exploring David's personal life at this time." The failure of police departments to deal adequately or fairly with cases of domestic violence among their own is a problem that has been explored extensively by the Feminist Majority Foundation's National Center for Women and Policing. This discussion will try to address some of the complex issues surrounding police family violence. Please feel free to submit questions. Renae will do her best to respond to them all.

Captain Miriam Reed: The Lautenberg Amendment was the most helpful piece of legislation ever in reducing police domestic violence. However, officers who plead deferred prosecution or deferred judgment are alllowed to rejoin their departments, often after little has been accomplished in reducing the violence against the spouse. Can more "teeth" be added to the original bill, or a new bill passed that would eliminate these "loophole" pleas, or legislate mandatory retirement or separation from the police agency if the officer pleads D.P., D.J., nolo contendere, guilty, or is found guilty?

Renae Griggs: The Lautenberg Act, passed by the United States Congress in September 1996, prohibits individuals, including police officers from owning firearms or ammunition if they have ever been convicted of an act of domestic violence. This amendment to the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1968, includes misdemeanor convictions for domestic violence. With that, I suppose I could start by saying simply that legislation is only as good as its being enforced, and obviously as you pointed out, many times this particular piece of legislation is circumvented when a police officer is charged with a crime of domestic violence. Prosecutors and judges are often reducing the offense to something that does not reflect an act of domestic violence so that the elements of Lautenberg are avoided. I believe the issue goes beyond tweaking the legislation, however, to educating criminal justice professionals about police family violence and the potential irrevocable consequences of inaction, such as we've seen graphically depicted in the Brame case. And I also believe we must insist on accountability of everyone involved in the process from the officers, to the judges who are essentially disregarding the very purpose of this legislation, to the city government who cannot turn a blind eye to criminal behavior among its police personnel and who must commit necessary resources toward prevention. In short, I'm not sure that the answer lies entirely in the law. We can't legislate attitudes or mandate enlightenment in terms of the seriousness of domestic violence, whether officer involved or not. I think before we can judge the effectiveness of this legislation, we must educate all of the key constituents who are subject to it, and those who must enforce it as to the reality that these cases are indeed matters of life and death and domestic violence is a serious crime and a threat to public safety, especially when it involves a police officer. Beyond education, there must be a system of accountability in place when those responsible for ensuring its enforcement fail to do so. We have to have the cooperation and compliance of all the players involved, or this legislation is virtually worthless. Yes, every police department should have carefully considered policies in place to address this issue and consistently apply it in practice so that if an officer commits an offense of domestic violence, there is an internal procedure of discipline, including termination. There is a template (model policy) available through the International Association of Chiefs of Police to use as a guide. The IACP strongly encourages the use of Administrative Orders of Protection as part of an administrative investigation in conjunction with any criminal investigation, as well. Again, the effectiveness of which depends on the attitude of departments' leadership with regard to police perpetrated domestic violence. Comprehensive training and accountability measures once again come into play. I highly recommend a review of the IACP's position on this issue and suggest that every department take advantage of the resources the IACP has to offer. The information is readily available to all departments, which does suggest some liability for departments who do not have a policy in place if and when they are faced with an incident. Check out the IACP website at or e-mail Nancy Turner at

Finally, I must add that some have suggested the Lautenberg Act has put victims of police domestic violence in an even more precarious position, because if they report, one of the consequences is the officer's job is at risk. While some may argue that it is a matter of finances, I would submit it's more a matter of the victim's consideration that if the officer loses his/her job, they'll have nothing left to lose thereby substantially increasing the potential for a lethal outcome. Relating to the Brame case, it's hard to imagine that it's only a coincidence that the chief shot Crystal with the intent to kill her (assumed by the point of injury) and then killed himself the day after the article ran in the paper publicizing Crystal's allegations of abuse. He was exposed as a batterer, with details of power and control tactics. Regardless of the comments of the City Manager and the Mayor who came to his defense, he had to have known his career was on the downslide, and his image tarnished perhaps beyond repair, not to mention the possibility of impending criminal charges. These are extremely complex situations unlikely remedied by the Lautenberg legislation alone. The reduction of police domestic violence, in my view, requires an innovative and comprehensive approach that goes to the heart of the police culture and demands systemic changes across the criminal justice system, as well as an adjustment in societal attitudes about domestic violence, especially in police families.

Jaime: Are there reasons other than fear that nothing will be done why wives of abusive cops don't report abuse?

Renee Griggs: My initial response to your question is really a clarification that the fear is usually based on much more than the belief nothing will be done. More often I think we find the fundamental fear is that the outcome will be exactly what we've recently seen in Tacoma. The fear is more along the lines that if I tell, he will kill me. That's likely what she's been told repeatedly by an abuser with a gun, a badge and a tremendous amount of power, authority and influence, whose threats are very convincing, and who usually adds that he knows how to do it and get away with it. Essentially, silence is perceived as a means of survival.

People are still asking, "Why doesn't she just leave?" in reference to all cases of domestic violence, which is an undeniable indication that in general the dynamics of living with this kind of terror are still vastly misunderstood or significantly underestimated. More frequently than not, I believe she stays in the relationship in order to stay alive. We know that in general when victims leave the abuser their risk of being seriously injured or killed increases dramatically. So I think the answer to "Why doesn't she just leave?" in its most simplistic form, is quite apparent. When we're talking about victims whose domestic terrorists are police officers, it is my opinion that the potential for a deadly outcome is ratcheted up several notches, and the victim knows this better than anyone. There are many factors that support this assertion, not the least of which is the ever- present firearm that is as much a part of the officer as his arms and hands. It is a constant threat, and when used as such leaves no marks or bruises, but the message is clear and credible. He is trained to use it, comfortable with it, and in terms of gaining compliance it is the top rung of the ladder of use of force. From the beginning of the academy across the career course, it is instilled in the officer to always maintain control of every situation, escalating the level of force as necessary.
When you take into consideration the unattended psychological deterioration that often takes place over time in the police profession, the dissociation required to maintain emotional equilibrium, the acculturation of the request for help as being an intolerable sign of weakness, the mantra to always be in control, and the somewhat skewed sense of the boundaries of violence, add to that the feeling of losing control in a relationship, suffering public humiliation of divorce, custody battles, and potential exposure as an abusive spouse resulting in job/identity loss.combined with the presence of a firearm which can be perceived by some as an effective conflict resolution tool or ultimate control device.and you have all the ingredients of a deadly recipe. In case after case of police domestic violence, the vicious cycle ends in a homicide/suicide perpetrated by the officer. Perhaps perceived by him/her as the only means to effect control.

Of course every case is different, although we may see similar characteristics and patterns of behavior. So I'm speaking in very general terms, understanding that there are exceptions to every rule. I think it can be dangerous to over generalize and try to put people in boxes. But for purposes of this forum, I have to try to keep an extremely complex issue as simple as possible. Having said that, I do believe there is another primary factor that goes into a decision to report or not report in police domestic violence cases that may differ from those non-police involved situations. Many departments now have a "Family Orientation" when an officer first gets hired, or during the academy training. An excellent idea in theory. However, what we're seeing in practice is an unconscionable set up for an abusive situation to go unreported. In brief, these orientations often involve an explanation for the officers' loved ones as to what to expect behaviorally from the officer as a result of the law enforcement lifestyle. These descriptions often include characteristics frequently present in abusive relationships, such as isolation, emotional detachment, secrecy, controlling behaviors (proffered as " over protective") and others. These characteristics are offered as a laundry list of changes that may take place in an intimate partner/family member that should be understood and accepted as innate to the noble and highly stressful profession of policing. In effect, it is being subtly suggested to many civilian audiences that it is their civic duty to tolerate these behaviors and make the necessary adjustments for the sake of their officer loved one who has vowed to make whatever sacrifices required to protect and serve. Personally, I think we are injecting a mindset into intimate police partners that it is an expected part of their sacrifice to sometimes "take one on the chin" for the good of the community. As a result of these indoctrinations early on I think we may be putting a potential victim in the position of believing that physical abuse and psychological torture comes with the territory, and if they cannot accept that they just don't have what it takes to be a cop's spouse. Needless to say, this may significantly reduce the likelihood of her reporting domestic violence later on, or for that matter even recognizing it as such.

Rosalyn: Are police more likely to be domestic abusers than people in other professions?

Renee Griggs: This is a loaded question, to be sure. I can only answer it objectively with a limited amount of information to go by, and by reframing it. I cannot answer the question as it is posed. I simply don't know the answer, nor do I think anyone else does either. Based on the available research, I can only offer a response to the question, "Does violence occur more frequently in police families?"
There is a paucity of data where this question is concerned, with results from two predominantly quoted research projects to draw from. The first is an unpublished study by Dr. Leanor Boulin-Johnson from Arizona State University that revealed of the 728 officers who responded to her survey, (conducted in two East Coast departments in 1983) 40% reported they behaved violently (either verbally or physically) toward their intimates and children within the past six months. Of the 479 intimate police partners surveyed, 10% reported they had experienced physical violence at the hands of their officer spouses, and between 20% and 30% reported their partners had been verbally abusive towards them or their children. It should be noted that of the 40% of officers who reported behaving violently, it was not specified in the response how many of those were describing physical violence or verbal violence.
However, in a study published by Neidig, Russell and Seng, 1992, abuse was more clearly defined, although the context in which the violence occurred was not. They surveyed 385 male police officers, 115 intimate police partners, and 40 female police officers. There were some interesting findings, the details of which can be found in POLICE STUDIES, 1992 Volume 15 pp 30-38.
In summary, Neidig et al found that approximately 40% of the participating officers reported marital conflicts involving physical aggression during the previous year. Significantly higher rates of marital violence were found to be associated with several work-related factors, including the shift and number of hours worked each week, current assignment, and the amount of leave taken. The researchers concluded based on the results of their study that violence in police families is disproportionately high when compared to military families and the general population. The study reports that 41% of police families experienced some form of relationship violence, compared to 32% in military families and 16% in the general population. Therefore, if we base the answer on Neidig and his colleagues' results, the answer to the question as it was reframed would have to be, yes.
Those results notwithstanding, I must emphasize that we have a limited amount of data to draw from, and more than a decade since this latest information was published. It is my hope that researchers will commit to further studies in this area and that the law enforcement community will cooperate fully with the inquiries. I'd also like to add what I believe is a vitally important consideration. While we may be uncertain as to exactly how many police officers may be committing domestic violence, what we can be fairly sure of, to quote retired San Diego Sergeant and world renowned domestic violence expert and trainer Anne O'Dell, is. "Cops who batter are the most advantaged and sophisticated of them all." For more information about Anne and her training, see

Bethany: You would think that police departments would want to be held to hold officers to a higher standard than average citizens - not lower - so why are they so resistant to prosecuting DV cases among their own officers?

Renee Griggs: I think the answer to this question, which is excellent by the way, has multiple layers, and may be more complex than at first glance. Here are just some of my thoughts:
First, we have to ask if domestic violence is yet viewed as a serious crime. I don't think so. Not by society's standards (generally speaking) and for many reasons, not by most police agencies. This point was unequivocally clear in the reported responses of both the Mayor and the City Manager in Tacoma when the press reported Crystal Brame's allegations against Chief Brame prior to the shooting incident, that he had tried to choke her and threatened her with his gun. As far as they were concerned, he was "doing a great job" and so they were "not interested in exploring David's personal life" and unless there was a complaint "as to his performance" the allegations were a "private matter." These responses, which I'm sure both of these men would give anything to take back now, speak to the underlying attitude that continues to put victims at significant risk each and every day. There are exceptions, however, with some enlightened police leaders and criminal justice professionals who are taking an aggressive stand against domestic violence in their communities as well as within their ranks, and we can hope that this will soon be the standard for other departments to follow.

Second, I believe part of the problem is inherent to the police culture, which some could argue is perpetuated by societal attitudes. By that I mean, officers are acculturated to perceive themselves as separate and apart from the public at large-the "us vs. them" mentality. This can sometimes create an illusion among the officers that neither they nor their badge brothers and sisters can be capable of criminal behavior, so there is a force field of denial that surrounds the police community. Sometimes even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the officers and the administration will find excuses for the behavior or find ways to characterize it as anything other than what it really is. To acknowledge a fellow officer is capable of unlawful activities causes a serious ripple in the cultural belief system and subjects officers to the idea that there really is no difference between them and everyone else. That being the case, there is a natural tendency to protect against it. It could be said that society perpetuates these attitudes by perceiving police officers as "superhuman" unaffected by the perils and demands of the profession, never tiring or making mistakes, or romanticizing them as heroes who always have all the right answers, always do all the right things, always show up at just the right time in just the right place, and whose lives are without blemish. Society is desperate for a flawless frontline of defense. But we know the reality is cops are human beings, with needs, feelings, and problems of their own. This, however, is not a reality readily accepted by the officers, nor by the citizens they serve. Furthermore, it is a violation of a fundamental aspect of the culture to turn on a fellow officer, so denial is often an effective defense for the dissonance prompted by another officer's unlawful behavior. It is also perceived as necessary in order to remain in good standing with the majority.

Finally, another factor that might have an impact with regard to your question, which is somewhat related to the last explanation, is that for an administrator to admit he/she has a problem officer can be perceived both privately and publicly as an adverse reflection of that administrator's personal performance as an effective manager. I think the unfortunate tendency too often is to gloss over mistakes, try to hide them, or handle the situation quietly through internal methods rather than admit an imperfect choice or decision somewhere along the line and take appropriate corrective measures. It is related to the need for the image of perfection, that which separates the police from the rest of us. And again, much of this pressure comes from society's need for the same perception of separation. We want to believe that the people who are in charge of protecting us are indeed stronger, faster, and better equipped to deal with whatever a crisis demands. It's a vicious cycle of supply and demand.

There are many other possible explanations, some probably more obvious than others, but it's impossible to exhaust them all in this forum.

Mary Weston: Do you not have a coordinated city-wide response team for domestic violence established -- and if so, why didn't one or more of the professionals involved demand intervention from officials in this case on Friday? Also, what actions can be taken in by the local DV response team to ensure intervention does occur in situations that are this high-profile? Thank you.

Renae Griggs: The National Police Family Violence Prevention Project was founded last fall, the only national non-profit of its kind with the expressed mission to promote optimum health and safety for police families with the primary goals of preventing officer involved domestic violence and related homicide and suicide, as well as improving the quality of life of every police family. With that, your question is right on point. Regrettably, as a fledgling organization barely beyond the phase of administrative start up, we do not yet have a coordinated response team of specially trained professionals to intervene when a situation like that in Tacoma is publicized like it was on Friday, April 25th. Unfortunately, I wasn't even made aware of what had happened until the following Monday, which was of course after David Brame had shot Crystal and himself. I have since reached out to city officials, as well as the Attorney General's Office, in the hope of being a part of the continuing investigative process as well as the necessary rebuilding within the Tacoma Police Department. I am deeply concerned with the internal character of this department considering that of the leadership. It is my greatest fear that David Brame's acts of domestic terror may not be the only ones that have been overlooked. We have to prioritize the safety and well being of other potential victims whose cries have been muffled by that administration. So I do hope to become an integral part of the community's reaction to this horrific incident, but it is my ultimate desire and the fundamental philosophy of my organization to get involved before a crisis demands, in order to prevent this kind of death and destruction in police families. We have essentially a three-pronged approach which includes
1. The development and implementation of carefully considered administrative polices (including specific protocol for incidents involving members of the administration, city government or other high profile individuals) with accountability measures built in
2. Community based multi-disciplinary training as to the unique dynamics and critical lethality assessments with regard to police family violence which will involve: police personnel and their families; domestic violence advocates; mental health professionals; and lawyers and judges
3. The facilitation of referrals to specially trained service providers for confidential and affordable direct services for officers and their families

And with all of that, comes a constant push for an unprecedented public awareness campaign about this issue to effectively dismantle the wall of silence that victims have been trapped behind for far too long.
It is my desire to deploy an aggressive front-end assault through prevention, intervention and enforcement so that we can keep cops from becoming batterers and/or batterers from becoming cops. I believe that if we use every available resource in the community, and bring every constituent group to the table to discuss viable solutions to this problem, we can save lives, protect families and when appropriate preserve careers. It is my view that the only way to succeed is by taking a proactive holistic approach, soliciting the collaboration of the police community including non-sworn family members, domestic violence advocates and social service providers, mental health workers and criminal justice professionals, and bringing everyone to a clear understanding of the multiple layers of police family violence and the severity of the consequences of the failure to respond appropriately to the early warning signs of at risk officers and their intimate partners. I truly believe we can prevent most of these incidents from escalating to the point we have seen so graphically in Tacoma. But it will take an unparalleled concerted effort with a thoughtful innovative proactive focus, rather than the longstanding conventional bureaucratic knee-jerk reaction.

The actions that can be taken by local domestic violence response teams to ensure intervention in high profile cases such as the Brame's, must also be with forethought and not hindsight. In other words, these teams should have a pre-planned protocol to put into play immediately upon becoming aware of a situation like that which was publicized in the local paper on Friday, April 25th, when we still have a chance to keep the victim safe. But in order for the plan to be effective, there has to be ongoing efforts of preparation with all of the necessary participants engaged in the common goal of keeping victims out of harm's way. For starters, reporters and editors need to be involved and educated so that they understand the potential ramifications of printing an article exposing abuse allegations of a high profile representative of the community, so that critical protective measures are put in place prior to the publication's distribution or the television feed. That requires a cooperative relationship between the local media and the domestic violence response team, which has to be developed in advanced. There should be a collaborative relationship between the domestic response team and the local police department with specific responsibilities of both entities when batterers are police officers, and particularly high profile ones. So should there be such a relationship between the domestic response team and prosecutors and judges handling these kinds of cases. And with each understanding, there must be an aspect of accountability.

For more information about how domestic response teams can be proactively involved in preventing these high profile cases from escalating past the point of no return, I would recommend you contact Diane Wetendorf who initiated the first and possibly the only special division within a domestic violence shelter to service victims of police officers. She is now on her own and can be contacted via her website at:

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