A Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department officer responds to the scene of a crime. (Zachary Linhares/The Beacon)

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When it comes to having policies for dealing with domestic violence cases that involve officers, Kansas City-area law enforcement agencies have different approaches.

While the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department has adopted a formal policy similar to recommendations by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, no other agency has done so. 

Johnson and Jackson counties’ sheriff’s departments, for instance, expect their deputies to treat a domestic violence call against a colleague just like they would if the suspect were a civilian.

The IACP made its first model policy in 2003 with support from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women. The policy lays out prevention and training strategies, department and supervisor responsibilities, response protocols, victim safety guidelines and criminal repercussions.

Despite its creation nearly two decades ago, law enforcement agencies across the country have been slow to implement the model policy or its recommendations. 

Part of the reason is a perceived lack of need — when reached by The Kansas City Beacon, two local departments pointed to the fact that they haven’t had any reported domestic violence incidents among officers in recent years. 

A 2020 newsletter by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services states plainly the difficulty of police investigating their peers: “They may want to protect fellow officers from the consequences of their actions, including damage to their law enforcement careers. They may also want to intervene informally or to counsel an offending officer off the record in a misguided effort to prevent a more serious incident.”

The IACP recommends prehiring screening, which is intended to weed out any candidates with a history of domestic violence or abusive tendencies. The intent is to make sure that departments aren’t hiring officers with existing issues, making chances of domestic violence incidents lower. 

Here’s a look at what experts recommend a policy include and the details of how each department handles domestic violence by officers.

KCKPD emphasizes communication with family members

When a KCKPD officer is reportedly involved in a domestic violence incident, the department sends two officers and a supervisor or police commander to the scene. The ranking officer there must immediately notify Internal Affairs of the incident. 

A decision on whether an arrest will be made must be discussed with and approved by the supervisor or commander on scene. If police find the officer did commit a crime, the case will be referred to the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office. 

Nancy Chartrand, the department’s public information officer, said officers’ partners are informed of what the department’s expectations for conduct are, which is meant to help them feel comfortable reporting abuse. 

The IACP recommends all departments engage in a similar onboarding process for the family members of newly hired officers, called a post-hire intervention. From there, departments should reach out to police officers and their partners periodically to provide more information on the policy and available support services.

A recent Kansas City Beacon analysis revealed that in Kansas, domestic and sexual violence charges were the top reason for police officers losing their certification. Included in that group were several KCKPD police officers. 

Jackson and Johnson counties focus on avoiding bias

Outside of KCKPD, no Kansas City-area department has a specific policy for dealing with officer-involved domestic violence. The Kansas City, Missouri Police Department confirmed in an email to The Kansas City Beacon that it does not have an officer domestic violence policy. 

Johnson and Jackson counties’ sheriff’s departments don’t have a policy in place, either, because they expect all of their calls to be treated in the same manner, regardless of if an officer is the suspect. 

“We’re not going to say, ‘Hey, what do you want us to do’” when talking to the involved officer, said Jesse Valdez, a sergeant with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office. “We don’t do that. That takes the public trust out of it, then that shows the victim that there’s favoritism.”

If the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office receives a criminal complaint against one of its officers, it will turn it over to a different agency, Valdez said, to ensure there is no appearance of bias.

Both departments said there would be an additional internal investigation into the incident to see if any personnel rules had been violated, in which case additional disciplinary action would be taken.  

Overland Park police have zero tolerance for domestic violence

While the Overland Park Police Department does not have a policy specific to officer-perpetrated domestic violence, under the department’s standards of conduct policy, such an incident would need to be reported to either the bureau commander or the chief of police within 24 hours. 

Depending on the severity of the circumstances and the available information, officers may be suspended with pay while the investigation is ongoing. Under the standards of conduct, officers can also be fired before any official legal action is taken. 

Department officer John Lacy said if there’s evidence of domestic violence, including admission, a written statement or video, “the officer can be terminated right there on the spot.”

Lacy said the department has zero tolerance for domestic abuse by officers, and they always want victims to come forward. 

“If that’s happening, we want to know about it,” he said. “If they feel that the officer is part of the ‘good ole boys’ network, they can contact the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, which has jurisdiction over the entire county.”

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Emily Wolf is a local government accountability reporter with a focus on telling meaningful stories through data at The Kansas City Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member.