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As a young female recruit of the Chicago Police Department in the 1980s, Rev. Sharon Ellis Davis, Ph.D., thought she found the man of her dreams in a fellow police recruit.
“He was just a super, super nice person,” Davis says. “He went out of his way to pick me up one day when we had a big snowstorm, since there was no excuse not being present as a recruit.”
The two married after graduating the academy. It wasn’t long after that his abuse began.
“First it started with affairs and getting STDs and blaming me for that,” Davis says. “Then he started getting emotionally abusive and threatening. And then his physical abuse started.”
At one point, Davis’ husband pointed a gun at her. She was convinced he would kill her, if not at that moment, then someday. So she went to her department, which also happened to be his department, for help. But no one would listen to her.
“The response I got from the department was that he was a good police officer and made good arrests,” Davis says. “The other response I got was ‘You all, stop,’ and I said, ‘But I’m not doing anything.’”
That didn’t matter. The worst part was that it wasn’t just one person who was refusing to help Davis.
“I told the police department he’s going to kill me, but it fell on deaf ears,” she says. “I told people all the time ‘I’m afraid, and if I’m afraid of someone and I’m a police officer, you know it’s bad.’”
Even when the partner of Davis’ husband witnessed his abuse, he looked the other way. “Right before [my husband] came out of the house to go to work one night, he grabbed me. I was half dressed, and he threw me outside,” Davis says. “His partner, who was waiting in the car, never even got out. He just said, ‘Come on, man. Let’s go.’”
The Chicago Police Department never stepped in to protect Davis.
“We were both advised separately not to bring the police into it,” she says. “It was a year and a half of my reputation being at stake. I felt like I was going to be killed and no one would believe he did it.”
Fortunately, divorce put an end to his violence against Davis.
“One day, it just stopped,” she says.
Both Davis and her ex-husband finished out their careers at the same department. Davis went on to go back to school and become a reverend and then a police chaplain. Her ex continued with the department until he passed away from an illness. Chicago PD had the nerve to ask Davis to preside over his funeral. And she agreed.
“When he died, I wasn’t sad. I was happy that I no longer had to worry about him. That was the first time that I ever really felt safe,” Davis says. “But I was no longer bitter about him or the department. I had enough forgiveness to be able to look his family and friends in the face and say decent things about him—to comfort them.”
When Officers Abuse
Progress has been made since the 1980s in terms of how police departments handle officer-involved domestic violence. Many departments have adopted no-tolerance policies in which they reject candidates with any history of domestic violence (uncovered in background checks and through personal interviews). They also terminate officers convicted, or in some cases simply accused of, domestic violence. But work still needs to be done as not all departments follow such policies.
For more on how to protect yourself, read “When Your Abuser is a Police Officer.”
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