Why do police officers have such an outlandish rate of marital and domestic failure and calamity?

by Police Chief Chuck Pratt (Retired)
author of Police Headquarters

Why do peace officers have such an outlandish rate of marital and domestic failure and calamity? These are the main causes:

1. The psychological makeup of a great many officers drives them to experiment, search, and seek adventures. Which means that they are fundamentally driven towards playing around, infidelities of various kinds.

2. Vast numbers of women start out by being attracted to cops (my own experience indicates, toward a uniform). The symbolism of the weapon and badge are believed to be strong attractions. That magnetism they readily communicate to the members of the opposite sex who, all too frequently, either cannot or
don't even try to resist.

With many men, the number of conquests about which they can brag is of great importance to ego-building. (This is sometimes true of women, as well, although they are usually less braggadocio about it since we still teach our young girls a little modesty.)

It is extremely hard for anyone to avoid "adventures" when attractive members of the opposite sex are openly, persistently inviting.

4. Think about the hours these people work, the neighborhoods in which they work which are commonly a distance from home (where they may not be recognized by family and friends) and therefor can "get away with it" with little chance of being caught.

In other words, the average cop is continuously exposed to temptation with only limited likelihood of getting caught.

To go back a little, let me tell you that about two years after I got into law enforcement (we mostly protected against dinosaurs in those days) I did a little non-scientific, informal survey of the PD in the city where I served and found that of all the officers on the force, 80% were divorced within 3 years after being hired, remarried within less than a year and within two more years about 70 were again divorced.

Informal interviews and daily observations indicated that nearly all were first divorced due to infidelities, married the woman with whom the infidelities occurred and and then divorced her in favor of yet another woman with whom they were "playing around".

Within a 20 to 25 year career span, it was not and still is not particularly unusual for an officer to go through 6 or 8 marriages. And, oddly enough, they rarely shack up unless it is with another officer.

Unfortunately, women are often thrilled by dating an officer, often become fascinated by the profession and--as in your case--look to marriage with the officer.

Unfortunately, this simply leads to double-trouble in many cases as each member of this union is now subject to frequent temptations and opportunities for infidelities with either other officers or the many civilians whom they contact. Which makes it doubly difficult to keep the marriage together unless they are capable of sitting down, one on one for a very heartfelt discussion before the marriage during which
they set up the "rules" for their marriage and develop a clear-cut understanding of the agreed upon reaction to the breaking of those rules.

When both parties to the marriage are cops, they have a lot in common and often come to a deeper understanding of each than do "civilian" couples. But it is a rough row to hoe.

As Chief I made it a rule to invite every candidate for employment to come to dinner at my home and spend the evening in a relaxed atmosphere where we could get acquainted. In addition, if he had a wife or fiancée, we asked that she come along, as well as children, if any.

While it gave me a great chance to find out what the candidate was all about, it also gave my wife time to take the candidate's lady aside for a good, long heart to heart during which she cold advise the younger woman (usually) what it is to be a cop's wife, what she would have to put up with from the job and from her cop-husband. In the meantime, she could size up how well the woman was prepared and how solidly she was behind her better half.

As a result, we did not hire a number of young men who might have made good cops but who we believed would do so at the expense of their families. A cost which I felt was far too great.

By the way, we occasionally run into these former candidates and most are better of in other jobs and their families, nearly all, remain intact.

I've been accused of playing god, as a result of that practice. But I feel that it was best for the department, best for the candidate and his family and best for me.

Studies indicate that cops--as a work group--have the poorest records of maintaining marriages, a very high record of on the job injury, one of the highest rates of suicide after retirement. They also have a dangerously high rate of alcohol abuse both during their careers and after retirement.

My suggestion to those dating a police officer, then, is to consider and discuss all of these factors with an open mind