Fact Check: Studies Put The Rate Of Officer-Perpetrated Domestic Violence Between 5% and 40%

Fact Check

  • by: Dana Ford
Fact Check: Studies Put The Rate Of Officer-Perpetrated Domestic Violence Between 5% and 40% Wide Range

Are 40% of cops "domestic abusers"? Yes, according to one old study, that's true, but other studies found the percentage was much lower. Estimates ranged between 5% and 40%, and challenges around collecting accurate data abound.

The claim appeared in a Facebook post (archived here) published on May 30, 2020. It included the message, "*at least 40%" and a screenshot of a tweet that read:

the fact that 40% of cops are domestic abusers and the fact that Derek Chauvin's wife chose the night he was in protective custody to file for divorce are certainly two facts from which one could draw an interesting theory

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Facebook screenshot

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Wed Jun 9 19:01:08 2021 UTC)

This fact check does not encompass the second part of the claim regarding the wife of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer found guilty of murdering George Floyd. It just considers the first claim: whether 40% of cops are "domestic abusers."

Although the post does not cite a source, there is an old study that supports it. The author of that study, Leanor Boulin Johnson, testified in Congress in 1991 about her findings. You can read her comments here (skip to page 37). Boulin Johnson's study looked at the responses of 728 officers and 479 spouses from two East Coast police departments in 1983. She said:

How these figures compare to the national average is unclear. However, regardless of national data, it is disturbing to note that 40 percent of the officers stated that in the last six months prior to the survey they had gotten out of control and behaved violently against their spouse and children.

In 1992, another study came out that similarly included the 40% figure, but this time, that estimate represented the percentage of officers surveyed who reported "at least one episode of physical aggression during a martial [sic] conflict in the previous year." The distinction to make here is that the officer who reported the violence wasn't necessarily the perpetrator. That study included the responses of 425 officers, 385 male and 40 female, as well as responses from 115 spouses. Among the male officers, 28% reported committing an assault, while 27% of female officers did and 33% of the spouses.

Other studies followed suit.

For the purposes of this fact check, the most useful one is likely this study, published by Annelise Mennicke and Katie Ropes in 2016. It attempted to estimate the rate of domestic violence perpetrated by law enforcement officers by reviewing previous articles. Both of the abovementioned studies were included in the 2016 report, as were five more, including this one from 2012 that put the reported rate of officer-perpetrated domestic violence at 28.6%. Overall, estimates ranged between 4.8% and 40%.

Lead Stories reached out to Mennicke, assistant professor in the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, to ask about the Facebook claim. In an email, dated June 9, 2021, she wrote:

My research found that 40% was the highest % found across studies. So it is certainly not untrue. However, the range was 5%-40% and the average pooled % across studies was closer to 20%.

Mennicke addressed some of the challenges involved in collecting this sort of data, writing:

The other thing to add is that our review focused on SELF-REPORTED domestic violence perpetration. So it is likely that all these numbers are lower than actual prevalences, as self-report of perpetration is prone to under reporting bias in general, but particularly among cops who know exactly the illegality of their actions. There really is no good way to triangulate these data, as there are also under reporting biases observed among victim reports and among things like police reports. So it's not great, but it's the best we have.

Lead Stories also reached out to the National Fraternal Order of Police to ask about the claim. Jim Pasco, the group's executive director, responded that it can't be true, given the law. In a phone call on June 10, 2021, he referenced the Lautenberg Amendment, which is a federal law that prohibits people who have been convicted of domestic violence to bear arms. Pasco said:

If a police officer had been convicted of a crime of domestic abuse, or had plead guilty to a lesser crime when the original charging document alleged domestic abuse, that person could no longer legally carry a firearm. Therefore, that person could no longer be a police officer. There isn't a police officer in the United States of America today who has been convicted of domestic abuse.

Stated alternatively, he added:

There's only one outcome to domestic abuse for a police officer and that's loss of employment as a police officer.

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  Dana Ford

Dana Ford is an Atlanta-based reporter and editor. She previously worked as a senior editor at Atlanta Magazine Custom Media and as a writer/ editor for CNN Digital. Ford has more than a decade of news experience, including several years spent working in Latin America.

Read more about or contact Dana Ford

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