Police Psychology | Divorce in Cops and Corrections

Posted: October 4, 2016 in Public Information Bureau
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Police Psychology | Divorce in Cops and Corrections

by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.  ABPP

I just spent the past week at the Society for Police and Criminal Psychology meeting.  I had been the first executive director of the group and was the president the year before that, so I (with two others) totally ran divorcethe organization from October 2002 until this year where I passed the leadership role.  This year I actually got to watch the presentations first hand since I wasn’t organizing a special meal or lost luggage or whatever “hissy fit” complaints come up at a conference.  It is a great conference of law enforcement officers and psychologists.  I suggest you schedule it next year.

I had also helped organize conferences at the FBI academy in the late 90’s to attack some of the myths of policing such as the high suicide rate and the high rate of domestic violence.  Hell, when I started this job, one was led to believe that the world took their most screwed up group of people and gave them a uniform, badge, and gun, then stressed them out to the max and said “protect the public.”   Problem was, I was seeing a lot of cops and they were pretty normal, in fact they were good friends, relatively smart and mostly family men.  I mean, I came across some “players,” but most were doing overtime, complaining about their wives and husbands like the rest of us, and had decent relationship with their kids.  Turns out from the FBI conferences, rates of domestic violence are not that high, in fact below the general population.  And suicide rates are below the general population.  We never got to finish the triad and look at divorces.  We never had a definitive study of divorce.  Until now!  And the real data is not that bad!

What is the Myth?

First place, we are looking at literature that says the divorce rate amongst police officers is the highest of any profession.  That the rate is reported to be 66% to 75% and that it is growing.  More officers will end up getting divorced than ever shoot their gun and that they will be depressed and stressed considerably during that time.  “Messing with a police officer going through a divorce is like playing Russian roulette with your gun,” they would say.  Ah, the press has become so dramatic in the past few years.

Dr. Mike Aamodt has done the consummate research in this field in my opinion.  He simply looked at the 2000 and 2010 census date and matched job title with divorces.  Then he threw in a bunch of statistics and he came up with easy and simple numbers.  Simple and easy.  How much easier could finding a divorce rate be?

Good News, Bad News

So, first the bad news.  There is truth to more officers will get divorced than shoot their weapon.  That’s probably always true as police officer usually don’t shoot their weapon except at the range.  They also will be more depressed and stressed if they are going through a divorce, just as anyone.  And there is more bad news.

Corrections Officers are above the general population on all measure of divorce.  It is a sad thing, and we have to look at that as a profession, but our corrections officers are higher in rates of divorce, and in the rates of growth in the divorced population.  It is difficult to do the statistics any other way.  They were 20% more likely to get a divorce than the general population which is rather sobering, except that number in 2000 was 30% more likely.  So they are getting a little break and an adjustment.

However, police officers are 18% less likely to get a divorce or be divorced than the general population, meaning their divorce rate is lower than the general population.  And the even better news is that the rate of decrease has gone up in the ten years between 2000 and 2010.  The general population has increased the divorce rate by 20.5%, whereas law enforcement has increased only by 11% meaning perhaps the influx of psychologists working with law enforcement has had an effect (okay, I put that one in, but it is a probable cause).

Police officers however were a little higher than the general population in the number of cops who have 3 or more marriages.  Guess cops don’t learn the first time very well, or they don’t really want to be alone.  Or perhaps they just make bad choices over and over and over.

So What Do We See 

The main thing I see is we need to concentrate a little more on the prison and correctional work.  If we can get them to have the psychological resource some police departments have, we could be better off.  Unfortunately, our correctional brothers are lagging a little behind.  I hope they join this site too.

I think the other thing is we need to continue the work with keeping the men and women in our police departments psychologically aware because psychologists are having an effect.  Meaning, thank God we have some nut doing blogs and videos for us, let’s get it out to the rest of the officers.  (That’s called “Major Spin” to make you aware to circulate this as much as you can.)

Many are shocked at this data for sure, I know a few psychologists would have never guessed it.  We see all the people going through a divorce, so that makes sense.  We all seem to live through the lives of those who are falling apart and cops do talk for sure, so the rumors get going rather easily.  But you must not pay attention to them, as cops at least have a lower divorce, suicide and domestic violence rate than the general public.  Of course, this is only for people reading this so keep it quiet.  I am sure the next time your union negotiates a contract, the numbers will go back where they were.  “They go through so much stress their divorce, suicide and domestic violence rates are higher, so you need to pay them more for their pain and the suffering of their poor families.”  But for now, feel good, you are healthier than people give you credit for, except for PTSD, I bet that’s higher.  Dr. Aamodt, I feel a new project coming on.

So, who has the highest divorce rate.  Dancers and choreographers, bartenders, textile workers, gaming services worker, refuse collectors, etc.  So stay away from bars, casinos, garbage, clothes and Broadway and perhaps you won’t run into someone that could steer you down the wrong path.  You are better with criminals and speeders, I guess!


Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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