And now Luke Ravenstahl, the 26-year-old mayor of Pittsburgh (he's my age!) has promoted three police officers, Cmdr. George Trosky, Lt. Charles Rodriguez and Sgt. Eugene F. Hlavac, with domestic violence charges on their records. According to the Post-Gazette article, Rodriguez's daughter dropped the charges yesterday.
Ravenstahl's office initially reacted with surprise to this revelation, and Ravenstahl issued a statement in which he claimed to be "announcing a new policy that will set a standard of zero tolerance for domestic abuse." But when the ever-progressive FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) threatened to sue, Ravenstahl decided it wouldn't be worth it to rescind the promotions. Guess we know where women stand.
The local chapter of NOW, fortunately, has decided to do something useful and fight back on this issue. Domestic violence is, unfortunately, a part of police culture-- and that makes it nearly impossible for abuse victims to get a serious hearing from the police. Knowing that, NOW is asking women to come forward and share their experiences being dismissed by the police. You can share your experiences with Joanne Tosti-Vasey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
They have also issued a list of demands, including that the city:
- Keep records of allegations of alleged stalking, domestic violence, and sexual attacks by police officers in the personnel records during the employment of and for 6-10 years post employment to ensure that current and future police jurisdictions can have access to this record when making hiring or promotion decisions.
- Refer allegations of any criminal act by a police officer, including domestic violence, to an outside agency such as the DA’s office or the PA State Police in order to overcome police “codes of silence.”
- Set up an anonymous hotline service for community members and police to report allegations of sexual assault, stalking, and domestic violence. This would allow victims and police officers to report incidences they would otherwise fear reporting to the local precinct.
- Hire more female police officers in an effort to change the climate within the police department.
Establish a community oversight committee to review policies, procedures, and complaints about and within the police department.
- Require periodic psychological and other appropriate evaluations of all officers at hire, after any significant job-related occurrence, upon allegations of significant misconduct, substance abuse, or criminal activity including domestic violence, and routinely after every five (5) years of employment.
This is a good start. It's a way to lessen the damage. But I don't think it's a solution.
The problem is that the role of the police in society is, by necessity, a violent one. While there are plenty of well-meaning individuals who join the police force (including some of my relatives, for whom I have a great deal of respect), the police as a societal force are there to protect private property through the use of violent force. They fill this role under a great deal of stress, in a highly sexist environment (and the women who succeed as police officers have to become 'one of the boys' to the point where they are often less sympathetic to female DV survivors than male officers). In that kind of environment, with a culture where DV is tolerated, is it surprising that so many police end up using violence on their families? Or that the 'blue wall of silence' doesn't crack when they do?
Kudos to NOW for helping DV survivors in Pittsburgh speak out. I hope they win their demands. I hope their actions are imitated everywhere. And I hope it becomes part of a wider movement that calls into question the role of the police and the foundations of violence on which our society has stood since the days of slavery.