Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Monday, January 29, 2007

Abuse of Power: The Blue Wall

Part of a continuing series

"It can't be anti-cop to bring officer-involved family violence into the open. It's killing officers too. Things have to change."


In Greenley, Colorado, Heather Garraus, 37, was murdered by the girlfriend of her husband Ignacio this month. In Tacoma, Washington, Crystal Judson Brame was murderd by her husband David when he shot her in a parking lot before killing himself in 2003. In Tucson, Arizona investigators are looking into the shooting death of a woman and the role her boyfriend may have played into it. And so on.

What do these tragedies have in common? All of them involved individuals who were killed by members of their own family who also happened to be law enforcement officers or in one case, in a relationship with an officer. What I read in articles like this and I've read many would have surprised me years ago, before I attended a frontline feminism conference in the city of Riverside. At a round table held to discuss the issues surrounding domestic violence, a curious thing happened. Of the eight women who were brave enough to tell their stories, five of them had either been married or in relationships with law enforcement officers. In one case, the mother had to tell her daughter's story because her daughter had been killed by her husband.

At first, it seems like a contradiction that those entrusted with the responsibility of investigating crimes like domestic violence could themselves be committing them in such high numbers. And it's true, law enforcement officers are up to four times more likely to engage in domestic violence than the public in general, according to this study done by the National Organization for Women and Policing. By the time I found the study, its numbers didn't surprised me.

The study also noted that most law enforcement agencies investigated allegations of domestic violence against their employees informally, preferring to treat it as a private "family matter" and thus private. And when discipline is given to the involved officers for sustained allegation of domestic violence, it's usually very light. Very few law enforcement officers are prosecuted for domestic violence even in jurisdictions which otherwise, boast a very high rate of prosecuting offenders.

In 1996, federal legislation was passed that prohibits anyone with a domestic violence conviction, misdemeanor or felony, from owning or possessing a firearm. This was intended to apply to law enforcement officers but many agencies found ways to get around this restriction as did prosecuting agencies. Many county prosecutors use the recommendations of law enforcement investigators on whether or not charges are warranted and if so, which ones but in the end, they use their own discretion to decide the fate of each individual case.

One way, is to charge the officer with another crime or to persuade him or her to plead guilty to another offense. Also, the officer can be diverted to a program and then have his conviction either suspended upon completion of that program and later expunged. After this legislation was passed, the National Organization for Women and Policing did a study and found out of the 100 largest law enforcement agencies in the country, only 11 employees were affected by this legislation.

Initially when that legislation was passed, many law enforcement agencies tried to push for the exemption of law enforcement officers. Their energy and time would have been used more wisely if instead they had focused on the serious problems involving this issue within their circles. Often, it seems they do the opposite, feeding more fuel to the prevalent belief that law enforcement agencies are just not able to effectively investigate their own employees' misconduct. In fact, when a law enforcement officer is charged with domestic violence, often there is a litany of comments from his colleagues stating what a dedicated, hard-working, compassionate(especially to women) officer this person is, even if his wife's face was left black and blue from his fists.

Instead, it would be hoped that other law enforcement officers in the agency would be pushing individuals like this to seek help for their behavior before it comes to this point, or even further when their colleague has murdered a wife, a girlfriend or other family member. Law enforcement officers have the greatest influence on each other, given the insulated culture that they live in so they have the greatest ability to implement serious changes in this area yet for the most part, the only changes that arise come from outside forces usually in response to a tragic incident like the murder of Crystal Brame in Tacoma.

In some agencies, the internal affairs divisions would persuade the wives and girlfriends not to press charges on the officer instead of looking into the allegations themselves. Locally, in 2000, one such division in one law enforcement agency persuaded an officer's wife to drop a restraining order she took out on her husband because he was on a list of officers to be promoted and it would hurt his chances. Besides, the District Attorney's office wouldn't prosecute the involved officer anyway and that turned out to be true. It most often is.

But even the Riverside County District Attorney's office had not been spared from these problems as two cases involving investigators(many of whom are ex-law enforcement officers) working out of its Indio office. In 2005, one of them involved murder.

David McGowan, an investigator, killed five members of his family including three children before killing himself. The investigation didn't uncover much information as to why McGowan killed his family, except for a note quoting some song lyrics he had left behind. Not much is known about McGowan and his demons as they are often called by those who worked closest to him. That incident should have launched a wake up call in both his agency and his profession, but has it?

North County Times: McGowan murder-suicide

The tragedy involving the McGowan family was far from an aberration. Incidents like this and other forms of domestic violence involving law enforcement officers happen every day across the country.

The Tribune, in Greenley details the Garraus case here and speaks to a larger national trend involving violence in law enforcement families.

Experts eye trend in law enforcement officers

(excerpt, The Tribune)

"We're really seeing a new, alarming trend that's scaring the devil out of me," said Tom Gillan, director of the Central Florida Police Stress Unit, a nonprofit organization that offers support to law enforcement officers and their families.

"The stress of the job, the stress of the home life, it's causing this trend I'm seeing where officers are killing other officers and even their own spouses and children. It's more of a violent trend."

Tacoma, Washington

After Crystal's murder, local activists in that city got together and literally changed the face of domestic violence in law enforcement and how it's handled in their city including the creation and implementation of a policy for the investigation of domestic violence committed by police officers within that city's department. It is estimated that less than 50% of all law enforcement agencies in this country have similar policies.

The News Tribune: Stories on David and Crystal Brame

The Office of the State Attorney General in Washington developed the following protocol for addressing police-related domestic violence in law enforcement agencies in that state.

Los Angeles, California

Domestic violence was outed in the Los Angeles Police Department in a big way by an investigator who had been hired to work on one case.

(excerpt, National Organization for Women and Policing)

In 1997, the Los Angeles Office of the Inspector General conducted an investigation of the LAPD after a legal consultant named Bob Mullally leaked shocking LAPD personnel files to the press. These files documented scores of violent domestic crimes committed by LAPD officers. Mullally was so shocked by the LAPD's mishandling of this police family violence that he decided to violate the civil protective order in the case he was working on and turn the files over to the media, in the hopes of creating change in the LAPD.

Rather than reviewing the problem or recommending improvements, the LAPD sued Mullally for leaking the information.

In 2002, after multiple appeals, Mullally was sentenced to 45 days in federal prison. None of the police officers he exposed were ever prosecuted for their crimes, and many continue to serve as gun-carrying LAPD officers. Even the prosecutor in the case stated on record that this sentence was "extreme" for a violation of a civil protective order.

Mullally is the first person in United States history to ever serve a jail term for this type of violation. He served his time in 2003, 6 years after he exposed the files.

The National Center for Women & Policing and the Feminist Majority Foundation have been actively involved in this case, which was featured in 2000 in a 60 Minutes segment with Mike Wallace. For more information on the case or to obtain documents including the amicus brief submitted by the National Center for Women & Policing and the Feminist Majority Foundation, please contact our office at (310)556-2526.

S.A.B.L.E. and other similar Web sites on police-related domestic violence address the unique circumstances that victims face when their abusers are in the same profession that is entrusted with investigating these crimes. Often it's the training in this area in addition to law enforcement training in general that works against these victims. For example, if they want to leave their houses and go to a battered women's shelter, it is almost impossible. Most such shelters keep their locations a secret so that women who flee their batterers won't be followed by them to the shelters. However, in the case of law enforcement officers, many of them know where these shelters are already.

Here are other tools of the trade the officer may use as well.

(excerpt, S.A.B.L.E.)

"Patrolling" of your house, work place, children's day care center by abuser or fellow officers.

Use of surveillance tools such as phone taps; sound-activated audio and video recording of your activities in the house.

Use of police scanner to listen to cellular phone calls.

Attachment of vehicle tracking devices to your car.

Ability to run license plates, obtain documentation, find unlisted phone numbers and addresses of anyone whom you contact.

Your abuser to enter your house or vehicle at will using lock pick tools and skills.

Enlistment of neighbors to watch and report to him in return for "favors" from him.

Harassment of you, your family or friends with traffic stops, evidence planting, false arrests.

Abuse of Power, a site run by domestic violence expert Diane Wetendorf offers many resources for victims of law enforcement related domestic violence and breaks down strategies used by law enforcement officers who batter in terms of how to get the upper hand in the situation as shown through the Power Wheel and the Code of Silence which often protects law enforcement officers engaging in domestic violence.

(excerpt, Abuse of Power: The Brotherhood)

Good versus bad guys

The police personality serves to insulate officers from the rest of society. It fosters an "us versus them" mentality. The cops are the good guys and everyone else is a potential bad guy. There is a constant power struggle between the good and bad guys. Police believe that societal order depends on the good guys winning - at any cost.

When anyone challenges the police, the police defend their right to enforce control and authority. Officers must trust each other to provide assistance and back-up in their struggle to maintain control. They develop strong bonds of loyalty that ensure they will be there for each other. The Brotherhood must be reliable in life and death situations. Cops - and firefighters - stick together.

Code of Silence

When an officer is in trouble on the job or in trouble with his wife or girlfriend at home, he counts on his buddies to cover for him. He gives them a story that explains why he "had to do" whatever he did. They repeat his version of the story and they stick to that version. They put themselves on the line with their fellow officer. That's what the brotherhood is all about.

Simple rules

Whether testifying in court or smoothing things out at home, the rules are simple:

Say as little as possible.

Answer only the question asked.

Don't give details.

Deny all accusations.

Say "I don't remember", "I didn't see that", or "I don't know."

This Web site attributes a lot of the dynamics in law enforcement-related domestic violence to the existance of the police culture that is often mentioned in conversations about other problems in law enforcement. But how much of the problem lies at this door, a question that doesn't provide much in the way of answers.


Abuse of Power

Battered Women's Justice Project

Behind the Blue Wall

Police Domestic Violence

Central Florida Police Stress Unit, Inc.


South African study on police-related domestic violence


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