Domestic Violence is an issue across the country, but for police officers it holds a different meaning when it happens in their own homes.
According to a study from the National Center for Women and Policing, at least 40 percent of officer families experience domestic violence in the home. This is a drastic number compared to just 10 percent of the general population that experience domestic violence.
The study showed that while domestic violence is always a terrible situation for those involved, it can be worse for those who are victims of police officers because officers will have a gun, know the location of battered women’s shelters and knows how to “manipulate the system to avoid penalty and/or shift blame to the victim,” according to the organization’s website.
To prevent that, local law enforcement agencies take a number of steps.
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“We do a very thorough background investigation on our central officers,” said Stephanie Williams, spokeswoman for the James City County Police Department. “We pride ourselves on having a very thorough background investigation.”
With the JCCPD, every candidate goes through a background investigation that includes criminal history, psychological testing, questioning previous supervisors, and talking to neighbors and family members. Candidates also take a polygraph test and have their personal history investigated.
Williams said many applicants do not make it through that system.
But once an officer is trained and sworn in, there can still be instances of domestic violence in the home.
Williams said the department does not do regular mental health status checks after an officer passes the initial background checks. However, there is a peer review team available to officers as well as an employee assistance program that will connect officers with a counselor upon request.
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Officers can initiate treatment themselves but it is really up to them to seek it out, Williams said.
“If an officer is accused of domestic violence, we will ask an outside agency to investigate criminally,” she said. “There has been discussion [to start mental health checks] but there are a lot of legal hurdles that we would have to go through to implement such a program.
York-Poquoson Sheriff J.D. “Danny” Diggs said all deputies have an assessment done when they are hired and they do not have to undergo another evaluation unless they are exhibiting strange or unusual behavior.
He would not elaborate or provide examples of such behavior.
“If we believe someone is having a difficult time, we might refer them to the employment assistance program,” he said.
Diggs said deputies can share their concerns and talk to someone about anything, such as financial issues or the unexpected death of a family member.
“That kind of takes the stigma of us finally asking that,” he said.
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Those who believe a deputy is abusing his or her spouse or family member, can submit an anonymous report to the sheriff’s office.
If a deputy is accused of a domestic violent incident, after receiving the inquiry, the sheriff’s office would “call the person in” and conduct two separate investigations, Diggs said.
Diggs also mentioned there are a good number of deputies who live in other jurisdictions which means another jurisdiction would be involved.
Shelley Ward, spokeswoman for the York-Poquoson’s Sheriff’s Office, said in the last two years, the office had one incident where a deputy was involved in a domestic violence incident.
“She no longer works here,” Ward said. “She was the victim in this situation.”
Diggs said the deputy lived in another jurisdiction.
The Williamsburg Police Department did not immediately respond for comment about their processes and procedures.