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Abstract

The deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the almost daily news stories about abusive and violent police conduct are currently prompting questions about the appropriate use of force by police officers. Moreover, the history of police brutality directed towards women is well-documented. Most of that literature, however, captures the violence that police do in their public capacity as officers of the state. This Article examines the violence and abuse perpetrated by police in their private lives, against their intimate partners. Although the public and private overlap, the power and training provided to police officers by the state makes them significantly more dangerous as abusers. Intimate partner abuse by police officers is a systemic, structural issue created and fueled by the ways in which police officers are socialized and trained. Police officers are more likely than others to abuse their partners, and as a result of their training and their state imprimatur, police abuse of partners is more problematic and potentially more dangerous than abuse by civilians. Changing the behavior of abusive police officers may be nearly impossible given the interplay of policing and masculinity. Policing is a male profession; it encourages and rewards many of the same notions of masculinity that underscore intimate partner abuse. Feminist theories about how intimate partner abuse serves a means of asserting control over one’s partner may not explain officer-involved domestic violence; intimate partner abuse in law enforcement may be part of a larger pattern of violent behavior justified by problematic notions of masculinity. Moreover, the increasing militarization of police forces has given rise to a particularly pernicious type of masculinity, militarized masculinity, which is reflected in the attitudes and training of and methods used by police officers, both on the street and at home. Despite the high rates of intimate partner abuse by police officers, each incident is treated as an isolated event, rather than part of a systemic problem, and officers are largely able to act with impunity because of their centrality in the law and policy response to intimate partner abuse in the United States. The state has a serious stake in this conversation, not only because it trains and arms abusers, but because it depends upon these same abusers to enforce the very laws that they are violating in their own relationships. The U.S. response to intimate partner abuse relies heavily on the criminal justice system to enforce domestic violence laws; this Article asks whether criminalization can succeed as a policy when police officers are disproportionately committing intimate partner abuse.


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