Domestic Violence: Home and Work Cannot Be Two Different Worlds?

Robert D. Cubby
October 11, 2013

When entering into the police force we make a conscious decision to become police officers. As part of that decision, we are taught many rules as we “mature” into our police officer roles. One unwritten, unofficial rule was to never bring your “job” home and never bring “home” to your job. We were expected to live two separate worlds, neither one intruding on the other. If you had a bad shift or incident, it stayed at work and if you had an argument with your wife (or significant other), that too stays at home. Sounds simple enough but often times it consumes all our energy.

In deciding to separate work and home, there was an incident with one of my officers that put this unwritten, unofficial, rule to the test. Little did the officer know, that the decisions he would have to make that night would make it impossible to separate work and family. He states that he had an argument with his wife, that turned into a very physical confrontation. In the confrontation, she grabbed a knife from the kitchen and lunged at the officer cutting him twice. He defended himself (as he was trained to do) by grabbing her arms and taking the knife away. He stated that he didn’t use anymore force than was necessary to defend himself. After sustaining cuts, he stated he left the room because he was already late for work, didn’t want to call off work due to the wounds, and he didn’t want the fight to escalate anymore than it already had. The officer claimed he was too embarrassed to admit to or reveal what had happened to him. Always mindful that the separation of home and work had to be maintained.

The officer came into work after bandaging his wounds. The sergeant on the desk noticed that the officer didn’t look well and asked if he was alright. The officer asked if it was slow later, if he could be excused early from duty. The sergeant stated he’d think about it . The officer must have been in a lot of pain at the time from his wounds — but said nothing to anyone.

In the interim, his wife went to the police department in the town they lived in. As a wife of a policeman she most likely knew that to prove that she was the victim of domestic violence she needed to show marks made by hitting or rough handling. It was reported that her arms had shown the marks left from the self defense of the officer. Even though she assaulted her husband and the “rough handling” she received was reported as being done in self defense, she pressed a domestic violence complaint on the officer. Our dispatch received a call from the police department involved and they called me as the City Commander to inform me of the situation. They asked that he be held and that they’d send a unit to our department to pick up the officer and arrest him for domestic violence.

I called the desk sergeant and asked that the officer be detained. The sergeant informed me that the officer was excused from duty because he wasn’t feeling well. I responded to the district and we reached the officer by cell phone . He was driving and said he needed to pull over at the next rest area. We informed him of the situation and that he needed to return to our department. Imagine the choices he had to make. If he continued home he would be intercepted and arrested. That could mean being treated like an armed criminal, surrounded, taken out of the car at gunpoint, put on the ground and handcuffed while still in uniform. Which would have been probably too much for this officer to bear. However, if he responded back to our department we could forego all that in a peaceful manner. But the problem with him going back to the department was that he would have to face his fellow officers and his supervisors in this embarrassing set of circumstances. He would face disciplinary charges, lose his gun and badge, and possibly lose his job.

He instead tells us he has nothing to live for anymore. His career and his marriage are ruined. He’ll lose his children to his spouse (who just assaulted him) because in any court settlement it will most likely go against him because he is a male — and a police officer. He said he doesn’t know how he can go on anymore. Fearing the worst, the sergeant continued talking to him. convincing him to reconsider, that if he ended his life he’d be abandoning any hope of seeing his children and he’d give up on the job he loved so much. We considered calling in the state Police to assist — but we feared it would escalate into a tragedy that way. The sergeant did an outstanding job and talked the officer into surrendering to us.

The officer returned to the district and we segregated him from the peering eyes and ears of the other officers. We told him that the rules state we have to relieve him of his weapon, which he understood. The necessary members of the department were notified including Internal Affairs and union representation. He stated that he doesn’t understand how he could be the aggressor in this incident when he was defending himself from being assaulted, and his spouse was the one doing the cutting. I asked him to take his shirt off and he was bleeding through the bandages he had put on. He needed immediate medical attention.

We took him to the hospital for treatment and afforded him some time to deal with what he was facing. I was bothered by the fact that this officer, who is my close friend, didn’t call me or confide in me, he told me he was too embarrassed to say anything even to me. Men should not be embarrassed or ashamed to come forward if they are a victim of domestic violence. But he didn’t want his personal life to be the topic of conversation of the department . He thought he could handle it himself. He was processed for the domestic violence arrest. Since then he has dealt with his personal problems with counseling. He is back on full duty with the police department . He fought for and won full custody of his children as his wife was adjudged to not fulfill the requirements for custody of the children. Ultimately he won what he sought to win, but doing so with the help and support of others.

Since the unwritten rule of separation of home and work played a key role in this scenario, we should wonder whether this is a good practice, and why the department still preached its adherence. Natalie Grace in e How Money in an article titled, “How to Separate Work from Home” recommends that this separation should be maintained setting a balance of importance between work and home but maintaining the separation.

Conversely Larissa Sewell and Marie -Josee Salvas Shaar in Positive Psychology News Daily in an article titled, “When at Work Can You Leave Your Heart at Home?” stated that employers should be supportive of the employee’s home life. “Give employees good tools, encourage participation, support them along the way and their work performance will improve.”

Sherri Bridgeman in Yahoo Contributor Network in an article titled, “Domestic Violence Impacts the Workplace – Domestic Violence Comes to Work” stated that all businesses should set policies in regards to domestic violence and provide training to employees, supervisors, and managers on how to handle these delicate issues.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety article titled, “Work/Life Balance” stated that employers should institute work/life initiatives to create a better balance between demands of the job and the healthy management of life outside work.

Clearly the intention of separating work from home was well intended but ill advised. It is naïve to think that anyone, especially a police officer , can separate the two. Training in how to balance the two is a necessity in the modern workplace. Having a happy employee means having a productive employee. An unhappy police officer preoccupied by personal problems is more than an unhappy employee. He’s a risk to himself and others. Badge of Life has cited the liability of police officers coming into work burdened with personal problems. The bottom line is that they are not paying 100% attention when they absolutely have to and this results in increased fatalities, according to Badge of Life.

Couple those considerations with the statistics involving males and firearms in domestic violence situations. In The American Bar Association article titled, “Domestic Violence Statistics” they stated that access to firearms yields a five fold increase in risk of intimate partner homicide. Females killed with a firearm almost two thirds were killed by their intimate partners. The number of females shot and killed by their husbands or intimate partner was more than three times higher than the total number by male strangers. In an article from Domestic Violence Statistics titled Men: The overlooked Victims of Domestic Violence, the article cited statistics from the CDC. In 2010, 40% of victims of severe, physical domestic violence are men. Men are more likely to be victims of attacks with a deadly weapon at the rate of 63% males to 15% females. Men who suffer domestic violence can only receive help if they break the silence. Not reporting because of the stigma is the main reason why men currently receive few services and one of the reasons that studies on the issue are so few.”

Obviously the odds are stacked against a male police officer in a domestic violence situation. He is almost guilty without trial just being a male police officer who has a gun. Any other occupation would not face this scrutiny . In fact, Federal and State laws dictate termination of employment upon conviction of domestic violence or the granting of a final restraining order in NJ. Clearly police departments, for numerous reasons, cannot adhere to the old practice of separation of home and job and must re-think their policies and training to prevent what transpired with that officer that night in that police department.