Civil rights attorney: domestic violence allegations against police among toughest to report

BOSTON — Civil rights attorney Howard Friedman has specialized in police misconduct cases for more than 40 years.

He said he’s had several domestic violence victims come forward with allegations against police officers, only to later change their mind and back out. “They don’t end up going forward because they’re afraid,” Friedman said. “There’s a lot of things that make people not want to report domestic violence by police officers.”

The decades-old allegations that surfaced this week against Boston Police Commissioner Dennis White have forced the issue of police-involved domestic abuse into the national spotlight.

“I take any allegation of this nature very seriously. I fully support an independent investigation, and I defer any further comment until it is completed,” Boston City Council President Kim Janey said.

There are a lot of percentages thrown around online, but Friedman said no one really knows how often police officers are accused of domestic violence.

“It’s a very hard crime to report so I don’t know if you can trust any statistics, but we know it’s at least as common as it would be in the general population, and I think people suspect it’s more common [among law enforcement officers],” Friedman said.

A 2013 study from Bowling Green University titled “Fox in the Henhouse” pointed out the lack of data for officer-involved domestic abuse.

“There are no comprehensive statistics available on [officer-involved domestic violence] and no government entity collects data on the criminal conviction of police officers for crimes associated with domestic and/or family violence,” the study noted.

Boston 25 filed an open records request and obtained 10 years of complaints — more than 6,600 allegations —filed against Boston police officers. There’s only one “pending” complaint listed under the category “domestic violence,” an allegation made against an officer in March 2020.

A Boston Police spokesperson told Boston 25 state law prevented the department from releasing information involving domestic violence allegations, even in cases involving police officers.

The spokesperson said it was a mistake to include the March 2020 complaint in the response to our open records complaint. Massachusetts public records laws have certain exemptions — records not considered public —specifically when it comes to reports of rape, sexual assault or domestic violence.

Friedman believes the Boston Police Department needs to be more transparent when it comes to allegations against its officers.

“If they’re doing it so that the officer’s name is never connected, then, of course, you’re protecting the officer and you’re allowing abusers to remain on the force. That makes absolutely no sense,” Friedman said.

“In a smaller town, people would be even more reluctant to report it. It’s very hard to report. Who’s is going to investigate it? People from the same department as the abuser? It’s tough,” he said.

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