WASHINGTON – Female Baltimore City police officers were twice as likely as their male counterparts to report that they had committed physical abuse of their spouse or partner, according to data from a 1999 survey of the officers.
Almost one in five female officers who participated in a study of work stress and domestic violence on the Baltimore City Police said they had physically abused a spouse or a partner, according to a Capital News Service analysis of the Johns Hopkins University report.
While 20 of the 109 women in the survey admitted to committing domestic abuse, only 56 of the 748 male respondents admitted to it, or 7.5 percent of the men to 18 percent of the women.
Baltimore City police officials did not respond to requests for comment on the report and the city’s Fraternal Order of Police chapter declined comment.
But experts who deal with police often suggested two possible explanations: Police work brings with it a host of expectations that could contribute to domestic violence, they said, and women cops — like women generally — may be more likely to recognize and report spousal abuse.
“Women do engage in violence against their partners,” said Beverly Anderson, a psychologist at the American Academy of Police Psychology in Washington, D.C. “Certainly, it happens more than it is reported because men just don’t report it.”
She and others said police officers are in the impossible position of having to witness great trauma and tragedy without the luxury of reacting emotionally.
“They have to disassociate to do their job,” Anderson said. The anger and frustration they “stuff” away at work, she said, can come out in other ways such as aggression toward a spouse.
Laurence Miller, a police psychologist in Florida, agreed that stresses of the job can have an impact at home.
“Think about it, it’s the only profession with a constitutional mandate to use physical force and this can shade over into home-life,” Miller said.
“They (police officers) are action-oriented, aggressive, they like to use and exert authority,” he said. “It is a role that is reinforced by the job.”
Other stresses inherent to the profession include rotating and unpredictable shifts, administrative red tape and general burnout, Miller said.
Both Miller and Anderson said female officers could have the additional difficulty of reconciling their daytime role as the authority figure, with their role as wives.
For Anderson, there is an inherent contradiction between the police persona and the “touch-feely” person a female officer is expected to be at home.
“It might be a combination of having authority during the day, and having worked hard to get it,” explained Miller. “Then, coming home and lashing out at the contradiction.”
The study, “Police Stress and Domestic Violence in Police Families in Baltimore, Maryland,” was conducted between 1997 and 1999 by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Pubic Health.
Researchers distributed questionnaires to about 1,100 law enforcement officers who volunteered to participate in the study, which looks at issues of work stress and its effects on officer’s families, especially in terms of domestic violence.