Saturday, December 1, 2007

Who does the badge protect?

A new report released states that the Bolingbrook police were called to the home of Drew Peterson and his third wife Kathleen eighteen times in two years. In all of those calls, which were related to domestic violence reports, Kathleen was the only one arrested.

Authorities never arrested Drew but he managed to have her arrested twice, both charges were dismissed later though. Some residents though are beginning to wonder if the department had protected one of their own and possibly allowed the rest of the events to occur.

Some like Pablo Delira, 59, state that they have no doubt that they would have been led from their home in handcuffs if the police had been called 18 times and they find it difficult to now trust the police.Others wonder if both women would be alive today if the police had taken those domestic violence calls more seriously when they occured.

The questions of police protecting their "brothers in blue" were raised when Tacoma WA police Chief David Brame shot his wife Crystal in a Gig Harbor parking lot and then shot himself. Brame had gotten promoted repeatedly by top officials to the post of chief in 2002, even though they knew he had been accused of raping a woman in 1988. They had even defended him and refused to take action when his wife filed for divorce and accused him of choking her four times in the previous year and of pointing a gun at her.

A five month investigation in 2003 by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer found that in the previous five years, 41 officers in just King and Pierce counties had been accused of various offenses. Those would include assaulting, stalking, threatening, or harrassing their wives, children or girlfriends. Most of them paid little, if any professional price and only half of them faced any charges. The Puget Sound area police officials had wanted the public to believe that Brame was a rare case and that officers are held to a higher standard, while following a strict moral code off and on duty.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer report though found very different results, in that many departments were falling short in how they dealt with domestic violence reports against their officers. They concluded that departments had created a double standard in which officers weren't arrested immediately while civilians were routinely jailed for the same charges. They were putting victims at a greater risk by not removing officer's guns when they were accused as per model policies drafted by national experts. They were failing to conduct thorough internal investigations and in some cases, not even conducting them, thus allowing the officers to escape discipline entirely. They lacked specific policies on how to deal with an officer accused of abuse and they rarely determined that there was wrongdoing in domestic violence cases. If they did find wrongdoing, they handed out very minimal discipline.

The P-I identified only one officer of those accused who had been conviceted and that officer had pleaded guilty to phone harrassment of his ex wife. He also kept his job in the department, a fact that federal officials were going to investigate. A domestic violence related conviction is career ending for most officers because federal law prohibits them from carrying a gun.

The report also states that the victims are up against a police culture that has viewed officer involved domestic violence as a private matter. Police officers can also be among the most sophisticated, manipulative batterers, armed with an insiders knowledge of the legal system. They know how to restrain someone without leaving marks. They undermine the credibility of their vicitims by stating they are vindictive or mentally unstable. They often will call 911 first and claim that they are the victim and they certainly know what to say on the witness stand.

They also can many times count on their "brothers in blue" to protect them by gathering incomplete evidence at the scene, failing to take all the statements they should or merely by stating that the incident was mutual combat and not trying to determine who was the primary aggressor. The report by the P-I goes on to include several examples of officers doing just that, escaping domestic violence charges.

Included in those stories is one by Jenifer Rees who stood and watched as deputies handed her intoxicated husband his gun and let him drive away so that he wouldn't miss work the next morning. He had flown into a rage less than two months after their wedding in 2000 and thrown her against a wall. She had shown the deputies a scrape on the side of her head where he had hit her with a dresser drawer he had thrown at her.

Rees had refused to cooperate with the investigation rather than enrage him more and no charges were filed against her cop husband Phil. She believes that there are many silent victims out there like she had been though. Rees also believes that officials have closed their eyes to the problems facing police families, from alcoholism to abuse. She had sought help from her husband's captain, the police chaplain and other officers in an attempt to get his bosses to take his problems seriously.

Jenifer states that her ex husband Phil, who had been accused of abuse in 1998 and 1999, was a walking time bomb. He was still on the force and on the streets in 2003. Not only do the "brothers in blue" have their own website in which they can complain about the unfairness of their receiving traffic tickets, this report in 2003 shows that preferential treatment for officers may be much deeper and widespread. It doesn't seem that difficult to see why the public is now focusing on Drew and his actions in the past and departments nationwide should be focusing on it as well.

For related posts, go here, here, here & here.

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