40% of Cops Admitted They Abuse Their Partners?

Claim:

Forty percent of police officers have admitted to abusing their partners.

In June 2024, an X user shared a YouTube video of a “dating show” in which a man is introduced to a lineup of women holding balloons who are told to pop them if they’re uninterested in him romantically. In the video, when one man introduces himself as a deputy sheriff, many of the women pop their balloons in response. The user who posted the video criticized the women for being disinterested in dating a police officer. In response to that tweet, another user claimed

40% of cops admitted to abusing their wives, dating a group of men who have the power and resources to cover up and control the narrative of their abuse is a horrifying implication to any woman.

Similar claims about police officers and domestic abuse have been shared for years across social media platforms, including X. Users on Facebook and Reddit have shared the claim in posts dating back as far as 2019. Some cited specific studies allegedly supporting these conclusions. One user shared an article from The Atlantic published in 2014 that discussed these studies: 

  As the National Center for Women and Policing noted in a heavily footnoted information sheet, “Two studies have found that at least 40 percent of police officer families experience domestic violence, in contrast to 10 percent of families in the general population … 

The “40%” figure originated in the testimony of Leanor Boulin Johnson, an associate professor at Arizona State University, at a congressional hearing on May 20, 1991:

The officers were asked a less direct question, that is, if they had ever gotten out of control and behaved violently against their spouse and children in the last six months. We did not define the type of violence. Thus, violence could have been interpreted as verbal or physical threats or actual physical abuse.

Approximately, 40 percent said that in the last six months prior to the survey they had behaved violently towards their spouse or children.

But while it is true that 40% of the officers reported that they had “behaved violently” toward their families, the way the question was worded left room for interpretation, according to Johnson herself. The second study, “Interspousal Aggression in Law Enforcement Families: A Preliminary Investigation,” conducted by Peter Neidig, even acknowledged that the previous study was overly vague. 

The only study to date which includes prevalence rates for violence in law enforcement marriages is that of a survey of 728 officers and 479 spouses conducted by Lanor Johnson (Johnson, 1991). She found that approximately 40 percent of the officers surveyed reported that they had behaved violently toward their spouse and/or children in the last six months and that 10 percent of spouses reported having been physically abused by their partner. However, as there was no operational definition of abuse employed, it is not possible to determine from this work the severity of the abuse or what proportion of the officers may have been referring to verbal as opposed to physical abuse, nor is it possible on the basis of this study to determine the rates of violence relative to other normative samples.

The Neidig study stated in its abstract, “Survey results revealed that approximately 40 percent of the participating officers reported marital conflicts involving physical aggression during the previous year.” However, that “physical aggression” included violence perpetrated by the officers’ spouses. The results for violence perpetrated in the relationship in general was 41% for male officers and 40% for female officers. Importantly, Neidig’s results for violence specifically perpetrated by the officers against their spouses were much lower: 28% for male and 27% for female. 

Joshua Klugman, an associate professor at Temple University, examined those same studies in 2020 and found more weaknesses: 

I am not crazy that the Neidig et al. study appears to be using a convenience sample and that both studies are pretty vague on recruitment. On the other hand, I would expect that any sampling bias would run in the direction of underestimating domestic violence. That is, officers who do perpetuate domestic violence would be less likely to volunteer to take a survey measuring various forms of personal and professional dysfunction.

A 2013 study done by Bowling Green State University examined officer-involved domestic violence (OIDV) cases in the news from 2005-2007. That study, which did not rely on self-reporting by officers, arrived at a lower percentage than the other two studies: 

The news searches identified 324 cases in which police were arrested for a criminal offense associated with an incident of OIDV. The cases involved the arrest of 281 officers employed by 226 law enforcement agencies.

There were 70 OIDV cases during 2005, 116 cases in 2006, and 138 cases in 2007. The percentage of total police crimes that were OIDV cases remained relatively stable from 2005 (17.2%) to 2007 (16%).

More recent statistics about OIDV are scarce, most likely due to the inaccuracies of self-reporting, as highlighted by Klugman, as well as officers not being convicted for domestic violence. An article published in 2023 by South Side Weekly examined the Chicago Police Department and its lack of convictions in domestic battery cases, despite their alarming prevalence:  

Records the Weekly obtained from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and CPD [Chicago Police Department] show that at least thirty-eight officers — most from CPD but also including the Cook County Sheriffs and suburban municipalities in Cook County — were charged with domestic battery between 2011 and 2023. At least thirty-one of them had their cases dropped or dismissed, three were found not guilty, and two are active. Only two officers were convicted. That’s not altogether unusual: a 2018 study by the US Department of Justice found that prosecutors in state courts secure convictions for misdemeanor domestic violence offenses, like domestic battery, in less than one-quarter of cases.

In sum, an extensive search found that the two studies originating in the early 1990s were the only ones that shared a “40%” statistic purporting to reveal how many police officers admitted to being violent toward their partners. The Neidig study’s results muddied the issue by including abuse perpetrated by the officers’ spouses. The Johnson study applied an overly vague definition of violence. 

Although OIDV remains a pressing issue, as shown in the South Side Weekly’s statistics, the “40%” figure repeated in so many social media posts has proved to be outdated and questionable. For that reason, we label the claim “Mixture.”

Sources

Blaisdell, Max. “Chicago Cops Accused of Domestic Violence Are Rarely Disciplined.” South Side Weekly, 30 Aug. 2023, https://southsideweekly.com/chicago-cops-accused-of-domestic-violence-are-rarely-disciplined/.

Do 40% of Police Families Experience Domestic Violence? – Joshua Klugman. 20 July 2020, https://sites.temple.edu/klugman/2020/07/20/do-40-of-police-families-experience-domestic-violence/.

Friedersdorf, Conor. “Police Have a Much Bigger Domestic-Abuse Problem Than the NFL Does.” The Atlantic, 19 Sept. 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/09/police-officers-who-hit-their-wives-or-girlfriends/380329/.

Neidig, Peter. Interspousal Aggression in Law Enforcement Families: A Preliminary Investigation. 1992, https://policing.umhistorylabs.lsa.umich.edu/files/original/5528df2d5b5c33cfeaa930146cfe20ccb5cad0cd.pdf.

STATEMENT OF LEANOR BOULIN JOHNSON, PH.D., ASSOCIATEPROFESSOR OF FAMILY STUDIES, DEPARTMENT OF FAMILYRESOURCES AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT, ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY, TEMPE, AZ. 20 May 1991, https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED338997.pdf.

Stinson , Phillip. Fox in the Henhouse: A Study of Police Officers Arrested for Crimes Associated with Domestic and/or Family Violence . Bowling Green Stat University, 2013, https://scholarworks.bgsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/09/police-officers-who-hit-their-wives-or-girlfriends/380329/&httpsredir=1&article=1005&context=crim_just_pub.

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