Violent secrets

They're women in uniform married to cop husbands who beat them and get away with it

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It’s being called the deep, dark secret of the Toronto police service. Some of the same officers who are supposed to be breaking up domestic disputes in other people’s homes are abusing their own wives and girlfriends, some of whom are cops themselves. And the police department is looking the other way.

The allegations come from seven female police officers who say they were in abusive relationships with fellow officers on the force, and that the department botched their cases when they filed complaints.

In August, six of the policewomen ­– ranging in rank from constable to detective ­– met with Police Chief Julian Fantino and senior police commanders to air their concerns.

They are seeking a zero-tolerance policy on domestic violence committed by police officers, and say there are many other abused policewomen who didn’t come forward.

“I feel betrayed, because I’m part of that brotherhood,” says Olivia, one of the officers. “I do a good job ­– I’m a good copper. I, too, wear a uniform and I’m very proud. But to know these sons of bitches are still there, that’s hard to take. It was all covered up. Nothing was done.

“I thought he was going to kill me. How can you let him keep his gun and stay on the street?”

In a five-page summary of their concerns, the seven officers allege that police investigations into their complaints were bungled and key evidence was lost, that they themselves were subjected to investigations, that their confidentiality wasn’t upheld and that other officers interfered “to protect or assist the (alleged) abuser.”

The document says police investigations and court proceedings “only served to further victimize the victim.” The police department’s lack of action left the officers feeling powerless and worried about their own and their families’ safety, say the women. They also express concerns about “potential negative ramifications to our careers and ourselves” because they raised the issue.

Several of the policewomen agreed to tell their stories on condition that their names and identifying details be omitted.

“I live in a state of hyper-alertness. I have to, for my own safety,” says Emma, one of the officers. “I literally left my life. I feel like I was imprisoned in my home.”

The women say that when they notified police, investigating officers were reluctant to pursue the cases. Evidence was mishandled. Some of the women were pressured by other officers to drop their complaints. Meanwhile, their reputations were tarnished and their careers suffered.

“I was treated like a troublemaker because I was trying to assert my rights. I’m very disturbed about the way the department handled it,” Emma says.

Instead of a serious investigation of her complaints, Veronica says she, too, experienced reprisals. “You will never be trusted again. If that officer (the abuser) has 50 officer friends, they will give you a hard time and you can’t do your job,” she says.

Simone, another of the abused officers, agrees: “The common theme is that all of our careers are affected, while most of the men didn’t suffer any career repercussions. Some got promoted.”

All are careful to note that many officers were supportive. But they say that police who respond to a domestic call at an officer’s home often ignore the legal requirement that an arrest be made when there is evidence of violence. They also say that police internal investigations of officers are often sabotaged.

Many of these women complain about the procedure that channels police abuse cases into closed-door, in-house disciplinary hearings rather than messy public trials.

“They don’t investigate as much as they would for another citizen,” Veronica says. “If they can destroy evidence, they will. (The accused officers) know what it takes to build a case, and that’s how they slip through the cracks. They can be very sneaky.”

The policewomen’s stories aren’t isolated. Research shows that police officers are far more likely to have violent home lives than others. As an indication of how hidden the issue is, the first researcher to study domestic abuse among police officers only stumbled upon it by accident.

Leanor Boulin-Johnson, a professor at Arizona State University, did the first-ever U.S. study of officer batterers in the early 1980s. She went on to interview 728 male officers from three East Coast police departments 40 per cent admitted they had “gotten out of control and behaved violently” with their spouses and children in the previous six months. She also found that officers who abuse their spouses are very likely to engage in police brutality on the job.

A second U.S. study, in 1992, co-authored by a Tucson, Arizona, police psychologist, found 41 per cent of male cops and 37 per cent of their spouses reported that there had been violence in their personal lives during the previous year.

There are no Canadian statistics, but experts on conjugal violence say the problem wouldn’t be much different here. They say existing services for battered women ­– the courts, police, women’s shelters ­– are failing abused police spouses, who are usually left feeling afraid for their lives.

“These women are in a very dangerous situation,” says Eileen Morrow, coordinator of the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses. “They are quite right not to trust a lot of people.”

Last August’s meeting with Fantino was the second in two years. In 1998, several of the same policewomen met with Toronto’s previous police chief, David Boothby, to try to get action on the same concerns. Seeing no results, a larger group is now pressing the department once again.

The policewomen asked Fantino to take investigations of officers for alleged domestic abuse out of the local divisions where the officers work, and transfer them to specially trained internal affairs investigators who would handle only domestic violence cases.

They also asked for better victim support and handling of evidence, better counselling for abusive officers and a confidential reporting service for abused police spouses, whether they be cops or civilians.

Toronto police superintendent William Blair, who attended the August meeting, says the department is taking the issue seriously. “We were aware there was a concern about domestic violence cases involving members and the way those investigations were handled by police.”

Blair says an internal committee was set up to study the issue back in 1998, after the meeting with Chief Boothby. The committee issued a report in September recommending some new police procedures. The police services board has yet to approve the changes, but Blair says the department has implemented some recommendations informally.

Among the changes: supervisors will be involved in investigations of officers for domestic violence internal affairs will be notified immediately of domestic violence complaints against officers, and may take over some cases (previously, internal affairs was notified only if charges were laid) and domestic violence investigators will be trained in all divisions.

But at least one of the “new policies’ isn’t new. Sergeant Nadia Horodynsky, the Toronto police’s domestic violence coordinator, says a directive on the books since 1993 states that supervisors must be involved in investigations of officers accused of domestic violence. Horodynsky says the rule was not always followed because there weren’t enough supervisors on staff, but the situation has improved.

The changes outlined by Blair are a surprise to the policewomen and in their view will do little to improve the situation. “I didn’t know there were any recommendations,” Emma says. “They haven’t told the women what’s happening. There is a lot on paper already that isn’t enforced. There really needs to be a zero-tolerance message from the chief.”

The department, says Simone, has a responsibility not just to abused police spouses but also to the public, to make sure an abuse victim who calls 911 doesn’t get a batterer with a badge coming to her door.

“Women are dying because our police officers aren’t doing their job in these cases,” she says. “They should address the problem before they are forced to by an outside agency.” Alex Roslin can be reached at

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