Law-enforcement officers often respond to calls involving feuding couples, violent relatives and other acts of aggression in the home.
But sometimes, officers are the ones involved in domestic disputes.
To help prevent such violence in officers' homes and bring awareness to the topic, researchers at Florida State University have developed an online tool kit that is being unveiled to all law-enforcement agencies in the Southeast.
The free tool kit, based on a pilot Florida program, is a first of its kind initiative, which researchers plan to eventually make available nationally.
"This is a comprehensive way of starting to talk about these issues that are very real," said Karen Oehme, director of the Institute for Family Violence Studies at FSU's College of Social Work.
"It's really just about addressing real-world issues and trying to deal with them at the agency level. It's designed to avert a problem before it starts."
As part of the training, officers are taught about the warning signs of domestic violence, the dynamics of officer-involved violence and why reporting such incidents is vital.
The kit includes videos and self-assessments on topics such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and attitudes toward domestic violence.
The program encourages officers to think about how they cope with stress and to think about their own behavior, Oehme said.
For example, in the self-assessment on attitudes about domestic violence, the officer is asked 20 questions, including: Have others said that you try to control your partner? Do you feel that women are not as capable as men? Have your children ever told you that they are afraid of you?
If the officer answers yes to any of the questions, he or she is encouraged to consult a counselor, mental-health professional or faith-based leader.
Oehme said several years ago, researchers noticed news articles from Florida and other states about law-enforcement officers accused of domestic violence and wanted to figure out what was occurring within the profession.
The researchers approached the Florida Police Chiefs Association with a proposal for an online program to educate law-enforcement officers about domestic violence and signs of abuse in the home.
The police chiefs liked the idea, Oehme said, and the Florida pilot program launched in 2009.
After gaining traction in Florida, Oehme started receive calls from agencies across the country asking if they could access to curriculum too.
Oehme said there are theories about an idea of "spill-over" with law-enforcement officers and domestic violence.
On the job, officers are to command presence and demonstrate authority. But they are not supposed to use "command presence" with their intimate partners and family.
Steve Casey, executive director of the Florida Sheriff's Association, which was involved in developing the program, said there's a time for officers to use their training, but there's a time to step back into their role as a spouse, parent or partner.
"It's to our advantage to try to identify these types of cases early … and try to get that officer counseling and help," Casey said.
Domestic violence at the hands of a law-enforcement officer also poses a dangerous situation for the responding officers who are sometimes the ones they work side-by-side with.
A domestic violence arrest could end an officers' career, and also cause them to lose their credentials and right to carry a firearm.
Several law-enforcement officers have been arrested in Central Florida in recent years in domestic cases.
In April, Orange County deputy James Knepper was arrested after a loud dispute with a woman in downtown Orlando. The woman initially said she was attacked but later wanted to drop charges. The State Attorney's Office decided not to prosecute.
Last year, former Orlando police officer Danny Sidders was jailed on accusations of abusing his longtime girlfriend but the girlfriend refused to cooperate and the case was dropped.
During the initial phase of the online kit's unveiling, law-enforcement in 10 states will be provided materials, including Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Orange County Sheriff's Office Capt. Angelo Nieves said agency officials are reviewing the tool kit, while officials at the Seminole County Sheriff's Office said they plan to start using the program and will make it mandatory for deputies.
Kat Kennedy, spokeswoman for Harbor House, which runs Orange County's domestic-violence shelter, praised the online tool and said any additional education is positive for the community.
But she also noted there are no boundaries when it comes to domestic violence. Law-enforcement officers are just as prone as any other profession or socioeconomic group.
"I don't think it matters what profession you're in," she said.
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