Police culture and community based DV programs

What happens when police departments don’t want to cooperate with local domestic violence programs? Is the burden to collaborate or explain the lack of a good working relationship placed on the domestic violence program, or the law enforcement agency?

In our experience, the law enforcement agency, as part of the system, is afforded credibility, while community-based domestic violence programs must work hard to establish credibility, no matter how long they have been in existence.  When there is an inability to establish collaboration or a breakdown in a relationship, the community-based nonprofit agency seems to bear the burden of justifying or explaining the problem and attempting to repair and maintain the relationships necessary to maintain the funding they need to continue to serve victims.

This is an incongruous situation when we look at two fundamental issues:

1.  Domestic violence programs were created because law enforcement agencies were not serving battered women. Police viewed domestic violence as a private family issue, not a crime, and men who beat their wives were rarely arrested or prosecuted.  When the domestic violence movement began, police did not like being confronted to change their policies on responding to women victims.  Over the years, as laws, policies, and attitudes began to shift toward collaborative community response to invention and prevention of domestic violence, many rural local law enforcement and criminal justice leaders continue to resist this change and appear to resent the presence of domestic violence advocacy programs.

2.  Police culture. Police training especially is designed to strip the individual’s previous identity and “make” a police officer. The police uniform, badge and gun are universal symbols of power and authority. When the individual puts on the uniform, he assumes the authority that goes with it. He expects and commands obedience and respect from the public.

Donning the uniform and wielding the power of the job contribute to what is known as the “police personality.” Some officers leave the police personality on the job, while others carry it everywhere, all the time.

Police culture teaches a law enforcement leader how to control a situation by manipulating the people involved.  A policeman or sheriff who does not like to work with women from a community based domestic violence program may use these skills to manipulate the relationship.

For example, if an advocate gives advice to a victim that a sheriff does not like, or is assertive when advocating for a victim or issue, law enforcement personnel, including Police Chiefs and Sheriffs have been known to threaten to “punish” the program and advocates by refusing to sign cooperative agreements necessary for funding proposals, refusing to alert advocates for crisis calls, deciding they will no longer make referrals to the program, threatening to call a funding board to cut off funds, and even by saying that the advocate program has somehow “obstructed justice,” and implying that charges will be filed against them.

In one very egregious case, a lame duck district attorney brought program employees before a grand jury to indict them on felony charges. After months of extreme distress and financial expense, the charges were dropped and the judge found prosecutorial misconduct on the part of the former district attorney. Later DAs in the same judicial district could reference the indictment as a method of trying to intimidate women working with the program. In other words, “if you don’t toe the line, we can indict you and make your life miserable.”

These are just a few examples of the type of threats, manipulation, and intimidation that have been carried out by law enforcement agencies and district attorneys in eastern Colorado over a number of years of  community based domestic violence programs being implemented and providing services to victims.

When funding agencies require law enforcement approval or cooperation for domestic violence program grants, they participate in and perpetuate the manipulation and abuse of women running domestic violence programs.

The police culure, particularly in rural areas, must be acknowledged and addressed whenever community collaboration efforts are undertaken.

NEXT: The role of the District Attorney in setting the tone and example for working with organizations providing victim services.

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