The police tell the public they are here to protect and serve, and in turn, the public is urged to obey authority and comply with the police. However, what if the police harbor criminals, including officers who commit sexual crimes? A thousand officers fired for sexual misconduct, abuse and criminality are not a few rotten apples. They are a quorum, a critical mass. Given the pervasive criminality of law enforcement, it is no wonder the Black community simply won’t trust them.
As the assault of a 16-year old Black girl at Spring Valley High School focuses public attention on excessive force against children, and the violence committed against women and girls by the police, a recent investigation has exposed a growing crisis in law enforcement. A yearlong investigation by the Associated Press has found at least 1,000 officers over six years who lost their badges for sexual assault and acts of sexual misconduct.
From 2009-2014, the AP examined the police decertification records of 41 states, which document the administrative procedures in which officers’ licenses are revoked. Nine states and the District of Columbia did not decertify officers for misconduct or refused to provide the data. Of those that did release records, the AP determined that some 550 officers were decertified for sexual assault, including rape, sodomy, extortion involving the performing of sexual favors to avoid arrest, and gratuitous pat-downs. In addition, 440 officers lost their badges for other sex offenses, including possession of child abuse images, and sexual misconduct that included being a peeping Tom, sexting juveniles and prohibited, on-duty consensual intercourse.
The AP emphasizes that the number is, without question, an undercount because it omits states such as California and New York, which boast some of the nation’s largest police forces yet have no system to decertify officers who engaged in misconduct. Further, some states reported no officers removed for sexual misconduct, even as cases were reported in the media. Moreover, the number only represents those police officers whose licenses were revoked, and not all states take such measures.
The true number of police officers who engage in sexual misconduct and abuse is also unknown because the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, which collects national law enforcement data, does not track officer arrests, and states have no obligation to collect or provide such data. The U.S. Department of Justice standard for sexual assault includes sexual contact that takes place without consent, including attempted rape, child molestation, fondling, incest and intercourse.
“It’s happening probably in every law enforcement agency across the country,” said Bernadette DiPino, chief of the Sarasota, Florida police department, who helped examined the issue for the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). “It’s so underreported and people are scared that if they call and complain about a police officer, they think every other police officer is going to be then out to get them.”
Unlike excessive force, sexual misconduct has evaded attention for a number of reasons according to AP, including victims who are vulnerable and reluctant to come forward, piecemeal reporting and piecemeal laws. In addition, some police departments remain silent to avoid legal liability and allow offending officers to resign, retain their license and join other police forces.
Meanwhile, little is said of the rampant problem of domestic abuse among law enforcement. As Conor Friedersdorf reported in The Atlantic last year, the police have a much larger domestic abuse problem than the National Football League. According to the National Center For Women and Policing, domestic violence is two to four times more common in police families than the general population. At least two studies have found that at least 40 percent of law enforcement families live with domestic violence, as opposed to 10 percent of Americans in general. This, as women are underrepresented in law enforcement, accounting for a mere 13 percent of police officers across the country due to discriminatory hiring practices. Abusive police officers are in positions of authority, and their knowledge of the system enables them to manipulate victims by gaming the system to their advantage, as their fellow officers cover up for them and look the other way.
Law enforcement and the media are quick to criminalize the victims of police brutality and abuse, and delve into their records in order to sully their names, but this latest expose is poised to change the debate and place the spotlight on police criminality.
And as police insist they are unfairly targeted, and that their critics fail to understand how difficult their jobs are, now is the time for some police accountability.