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When the Abuser is in Law Enforcement

Actualizada: 9 de mayo de 2024

If your abusive partner is in law enforcement, you may face additional risks and be in greater danger than other victims. This section will explore the potential risks and challenges of reporting the abuse, as well as the various tactics that abusers may use to intimidate and control you. It will also provide strategies to help you stay safe while leaving an abuser who works in law enforcement.

My abusive spouse or partner works in law enforcement. What are some possible risks?

When the abuser is in a position of power, the victim may face special risks. You may be in greater danger because an officer:

  • can carry a gun;
  • can misuse his/her power to harass and isolate you;
  • can influence how other officers report and investigate abuse;
  • will often know the locations of emergency shelters; and
  • may know how to manipulate the system and blame you to avoid being charged.1

1 When your abuser is a police officer, Domesticviolenceshelters.org (2015)

What challenges might I face if I report the abuse?

Police officers often rely on their colleagues for support and social connections. This creates a tight-knit “law enforcement family.” If the person abusing you is an officer, you may feel isolated within a closed social circle. You may be wary of telling someone in the department about the abuse. You may worry that the abuser and others will find out and take revenge against you. You may also worry about the abuser losing his/her job, especially if you depend on him/her financially. (You may have similar concerns if the abuser is a court officer or works in the court system.)

When a victim decides to report the abuse, two pathways could open up when the abuser is in law enforcement: one is the criminal justice process and the other is the police department’s internal disciplinary process. Unfortunately, police culture and relationships among officers may also limit how the department responds. Other officers may be slow to discipline or investigate the abuser. You may even face resistance from the prosecutor’s office to hold the abuser accountable since the police and prosecutors often have close ties.

Therefore, if you choose to report a crime, like many survivors, you may need to provide all the details of the abuse to get the officers to believe your account of what happened instead of the abuser’s. You may face extra pressure to tell about the abuse clearly and accurately. This means describing in detail the forms of abuse you experienced. You may also need to explain how the abuser used his/her rank and power to control and intimidate you.

However, it’s quite common that people who have experienced violence and abuse often downplay the severity of what happened. This is especially common when talking to someone who seems intimidating, like a police chief, investigator, or prosecutor.1 You may wish to get support from a domestic violence organization. Their advocates may help you design a personalized safety plan that takes into account any additional risks that you may face once you report the abuse. You could even ask a domestic violence advocate to come with you to the police station when you decide to make the report. You can find help by going to Advocates and Shelters and choosing your state from the drop-down menu.

1 When the batterer is a law enforcement officer: A guide for advocates (2004), Battered Women’s Justice Project

How may the abuser use his/her rank or power as an officer to intimidate me?

There are many ways an officer may use his/her rank or status to intimidate you. Some examples are:

  • standing in uniform while placing a hand on his/her gun;
  • giving you “The Look” like s/he knows everything you are up to and with whom;
  • letting you know that s/he is always watching you by showing up at unpredictable times and locations;
  • driving by your home or workplace while on duty;
  • making you check with him/her before leaving the house, and
  • firing his/her gun without ammunition in it (“dry firing”) or cleaning his/her weapons in front of you.1

1 Betraying the Badge: Officer-Involved Domestic Violence Webinar (2014), AEquitas

What control tactics may an abuser in law enforcement use?

Law enforcement officers who commit domestic violence often use many of the same forms of abuse as non-officers who are abusive. However, officers’ professional training can give them certain skills or access that they can misuse to get control over an intimate partner. Some examples of the control tactics of an abuser in law enforcement are explained below.


When someone stalks you, either in person or online, it can make you feel like your privacy and control over your life are being taken away. You might start to think the abuser is always watching you, which can make you change how you act because you’re worried that s/he is spying on you. Some signs of surveillance by the abuser in law enforcement are when s/he:

  • tells you exactly when you got home, where you’ve been, and who you’ve been with;
  • repeats things you’ve only told others in private conversations or messages;
  • shows up at your home, work, or school unexpectedly;
  • gets other officers to watch you and report back to him/her; or
  • sends unmarked police cars to drive by or sit outside your house at strange times.1

You may want to read more about Abuse Using Technology on our website.


When police officers are trying to get answers from someone they think is hiding information, they often use a questioning technique called interrogation. Officers using this tactic may try to control the situation by keeping a suspect alone and not letting him/her eat, sleep, or take bathroom breaks while the officers keep asking questions without stopping.

If the abuser thinks you are hiding something from him/her, s/he might use these same interrogation tactics. S/he may keep at it for a long time, maybe hours, until you are so tired or frustrated that you end up saying things you don’t mean, just to make it stop. Here are some things s/he might do:

  • force you to stay in a room where you can’t easily leave, like a bathroom or bedroom;
  • accuse you of doing things you didn’t do, and then keep asking you questions about it; and
  • refuse to listen to what you have to say or insist that you are lying.1

Weapons, death threats, and suicide threats

If an abuser who is a police officer threatens to kill you, himself/herself, or someone else, take the threat seriously. Being an officer is often a big part of who someone is, and an arrest for domestic violence might cause him/her to lose his/her job or weapon, which might make him/her more likely to do something extreme.

Apart from the guns they carry while on duty, officers might also have their own collection of weapons at home, like assault rifles and shotguns. Anytime an abuser has access to guns, this increases the risk that the victim will be killed or seriously hurt. Abusers with guns are five times more likely to kill their female victims. Abusers also use guns to threaten and get control over their victims.1

An officer might use his/her weapon to threaten you in different ways. S/he might:

  • play with his/her gun to scare you after an argument, making you feel like you can’t do anything;
  • brag that s/he could shoot you and make it look like a suicide or like someone else did it;
  • dare you to use the gun on him/her or yourself;
  • terrify you by talking about killing your loved ones or anyone who tries to help you;
  • warn you that bad things could happen to you, like getting hit by a car or having your house burn down, and s/he will get away with it because s/he can make it look like an accident or get someone else to do it; or
  • use these threats to stop you from asking for help.1

Some factors may increase the risk that an abusive officer may commit murder or suicide. For example, the danger may be higher if the abuser:

  • thinks you are going to report the abuse;
  • thinks you are cheating on him/her;
  • thinks you are planning to leave;
  • is spending less time with the children;
  • is under an internal or criminal investigation;
  • has his/her weapons taken away by the department;
  • is moved or taken off duty; or
  • is going to lose his/her job.1

If you see any of these risk factors in your relationship, please reach out for help. Go to our Places that Help page to find contact information for a local domestic violence organization near you. See our Safety Planning page for ideas on how to plan for your safety. For additional information on firearms and domestic violence, you can go to The National Resources Center on Domestic Violence and Firearms.

Setting you up

If an abusive officer thinks you are going to report him/her to the authorities, s/he may use his/her position and knowledge of police rules and laws to make it seem like you’re the one causing trouble. In other words, s/he may make up a version of events that makes it look like s/he is the victim and you are the abuser in the hope that you will get arrested. S/he may tell this made-up story to friends, family, other officers, bosses, lawyers, or the judge.

The abuser may do any of the following in response to your report of abuse to the authorities:

  • say that you made him/her do it, or that you are crazy, lying, jealous, or trying to get back at him/her;
  • try to convince others that you are making up the abuse allegation just to try to destroy his/her career;
  • try to get to the police first saying you hurt him/her so that you are already seen as the aggressor by the police;
  • get a restraining order against you first so you seem less believable if you file for one;
  • set you up to get arrested by forcing you to do something risky like drinking and driving or saying you attacked him/her or disturbed the peace;
  • say you’re a danger to yourself or others so you get taken to a hospital or psych ward against your will, especially if you are fighting for custody of your children; or
  • tell you to leave with the children, and then accuse you of parental kidnapping.1Note: For your protection, please first seek the advice of an attorney if you are considering leaving the state with your children.

1 Wetendorf, D.,  Abuse tactics, abuseofpower.info

How can I safely leave an abusive relationship when the abuser is in law enforcement?

If you are thinking of ending an abusive relationship, you should know that the abuser might get even more violent. That’s why it’s important to think about how to stay safe in your situation. Making a plan to protect yourself from the abuser is called “safety planning.” Here are some things you may want to do, especially if the abuser is a law enforcement officer:

  • Contact a domestic violence organization and ask an advocate to help you make a safety plan. These organizations may also provide support, shelter, counseling, legal referrals, or other services.
  • Keep a log where you write down each incident of abuse, and keep copies of any messages from the abuser that contain threats or show anger. Save or print out photos you may have that show injuries or items destroyed by the abuser. Keep everything someplace secure that the abuser does not know about, like in a safe deposit box.
  • In that same safe place, you can also keep important papers you might need if you leave, like passports, your children’s birth certificates, insurance papers, and money if you can.
  • Try to make friends or connections outside of the law enforcement world, so you have people who can help you and aren’t connected to the abuser.1

Not all of these suggestions will work for everyone, and some could even place you in greater danger. You have to do what you think is best to keep yourself and your children safe. In some circumstances, a restraining order may be part of a safety plan, including restricting access to firearms when the abuser in law enforcement is not on duty.  

1 Adapted from When your abuser is a police officer, Domesticviolenceshelters.org (2015)

What steps should I take if the police respond to a domestic violence incident committed by an abuser in law enforcement?

When a domestic violence incident involves another officer, the police officers who respond may protect the abuser. However, there are certain things you can do that may help you get an appropriate police response, such as the following:

  • Insist that a supervisor be called to the scene. Many departments have rules saying this is supposed to happen.
  • Try to get the police report number and the names and badge numbers of responding officers.
  • Write down everything you remember about what happened as soon as you can while the details are still fresh in your mind in case you need to refer to it later. Include:
    • what everyone said and did;
    • any threats, physical attacks, and property damage;
    • any injuries, what caused them, and how bad they were;
    • what the police said and did when they were there; and
    • the date and time of the incident.
  • Take photos of your bruises or other injuries even if the police or doctors already took some. Take more photos a few days later, because bruises can get darker. When you take the photos, make sure to take some that show your face so it’s clear that these are your injuries. Make sure that the photos are dated with the correct date. If you are using a camera that doesn’t show the date, you may want to hold that day’s newspaper showing the date in one of the photos.
  • Take photos of the scene showing:
    • any damaged furniture;
    • broken doors; or
    • damage to the car or any other property.
  • Keep your notes, photos, and other proof in a safe place where the abuser can’t find them. For example, you could keep them in a locked cabinet in an advocate’s office, a safe deposit box, or with your lawyer.1

 1 Adapted from Wetendorf, D., Your options, abuseofpower.info