Between 2015 and 2019, 82 Victoria Police officers were charged with family violence offences. Only one officer was found guilty and no convictions were recorded.
The charges ranged from contravening family violence intervention orders to rape, false imprisonment, aggravated assault and threats to kill.
Of those 82 officers, 68 were male and 14 female. Only 10 officers went on to appear in court, with 9 out of the ten having their charges withdrawn. One was found guilty, but no conviction was recorded.
In Victoria, the average rate of a charge being proven for family and domestic violence charges are 84% – a vast difference from the 1.4% of charges proven for the police officers in this story.
Some of the officers were subjected to disciplinary actions however none were dismissed.
High-risk domestic violence offenders
An ABC News investigation found that police are often failing to take action against DV perpetrators who are police officers.
Coordinator of the Policing Family Violence project in Melbourne, Lauren Caulfield stated that the number of officers charged with DV offences doesn’t represent the trends of DV in Australia.
“The number of police officers charged is strikingly low given the extent and severity of the [alleged] violence and what we, even as a small project, hear from the people we support who experience this kind of abuse,” she told the ABC.
Statistics on police officers and domestic violence are hard to capture. The statistics don’t count the number of time police officers have been called to family violence call-outs, the number of victims who have wanted to call the police in normal circumstances but didn’t because of their partners’ position, police named as respondents on AVO’s and where victims have tried to report but have been discouraged or not taken seriously.
“We are policing the community differently to how we police ourselves”
At the National Family Violence Policing Executive Group meeting, Victoria Police admitted that “We are policing [the] community differently to how we police ourselves.”
Of all family crime, 80 per cent of alleged offenders were processed, however when the police officer is the perpetrator, only 20 per cent were processed.
Ms Caulfield told the ABC that these statistics are not surprising.
“The fact that police responses to family violence are different when the perpetrator is a police officer comes as no surprise because it is what women who experience this violence have been saying for a long time,” Ms Caulfield said.
A culture of violence
Previous studies suggest that police officers may be two to four times more likely to abuse their partners.
A 2012 study into officer-involved domestic violence noted that there may potentially be higher rates of problem drinking and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) with training in using power and coercive force potentially spilling into private relationships.
A victim who spoke to the ABC noted that while they may have a high commitment to the role, the tools, weapons and information they’ve been given as police officers have shaped the abuse they dish out.
“It’s like he never switched off from cop mode,” one woman told the ABC.
“He always said he knew how to get around the system, that it wasn’t domestic violence unless there was physical abuse. When we first got together, he told me you couldn’t take out an AVO against a cop,” she said.
“I’m a police officer, no one will believe you”
NSW Chief Executive of the Victims of Crime Assistance League, Kerrie Thompson, told the ABC that most victims don’t speak out when their partners are cops.
“They’ve been told, ‘I’m a police officer, no one will believe you’. Or, ‘I’ve told everyone at work you’re crazy — they’ll believe me over you’.”
“I think the practice of police investigating one of their own — even in neighbouring commands — is problematic. It puts a lot of pressure on the investigating officer to investigate their colleague,” Ms Thompson said.