Civil Liberties

Sex Crimes Common From U.S. Police, Finds Year-Long AP Investigation

Nearly 1,000 officers were fired for sex crimes or sexual misconduct from 2009 through 2014, and a third of the incidents involved children.


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The Connecticut police officer who handcuffed and sexually assaulted a teen he met through a program for youth interested in becoming cops. The Florida officer who threatened more than a dozen immigrant men with deportation if they didn't sexually service him. The Oklahoma City officer who extorted sex from women he pulled over for traffic stops. These are just three of many, many sex crimes committed by U.S. police officers over the past several years. A new Associated Press investigation has turned up hundreds of officers fired for sexual offenses ranging from rape to voyeurism to possession of child pornography, and police policies both official and unofficial that make life easy for sex-predator cops. 

"It's happening probably in every law enforcement agency across the country," Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino, who helped study the issue for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, told AP. "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."

From 2009 through 2014, nearly 1,000 U.S. police officers have lost their licenses due to sex offenses or sexual misconduct, according to AP reporters Matt Sedensky and Nomaan Merchant. Their review "at once represents both the most complete examination of such wrongdoing and a sure undercount of the problem," they write.

Nine states and the District of Columbia either declined to provide the AP with records on officer decertifiation or said they didn't keep such records (both New York and California falling into that latter category). Other states provided information showing no officers were fired for sexual assault or misconduct, even though such cases could be found in state court records or news accounts. 

Overall, what the AP did find was:

  • 550 U.S. police officers fired for sexual assault, "including rape, pat-downs that amounted to groping, and shakedowns in which citizens were extorted into performing favors to avoid arrest," in 2009-2014
  • 440 more officers fired for other sex crimes or sexual misconduct, including possession of child pornography, "voyeurism in the guise of police work," and having sex while on-duty

About one-third of these 990 offenses involved teenagers or children. "Overall, the victims were overwhelmingly women and included some of society's most vulnerable—the poor, the addicted, the young," Sedensky and Merchant write.

Others had criminal records, sometimes used by the officers as a means for exploitation. Some were victims of crime who, seeking help, found themselves again targeted by men in uniform.

Sex workers are particularly vulnerable to this kind of targeting and abuse. I recently set to cataloguing the past year's worth of cop crimes involving prostitution—from things like soliciting sex while on duty to assaulting and extorting sex workers—and found ample material to work with.

The number of state and local police, sheriff's deputies, prison guards, and school resource officers fired for sex crimes "represent a fraction of the hundreds of thousands whose jobs are to serve and protect," note Sedensky and Merchant. "Nevertheless, the AP's findings suggest that sexual misconduct is among the most prevalent complaints against law officers."

A comprehensive study from The Cato Institute a few years ago found that sexual assault/sexual misconduct were the second most prevalent complaint against police officers in 2010, representing 9.3 percent of all complaints. More than half of these complaints involved children or teenagers.

Cato's National Police Misconduct Reporting Project provides a daily report on officer misconduct and abuse, including ample sex-related offenses. A few examples:

Spokane, Washington: The department was broadly accused by the county sheriff of destroying evidence in an alleged sexual assault of a county deputy by a city officer.

Los Angeles County, California: A deputy was arrested for child

Boynton Beach, Florida (First reported 10-31-14): The City tentatively settled a lawsuit with a woman who accused an officer of rape. The settlement is for over $800,000. The officer was recently acquitted in a criminal trial.

Live Oak, Florida: An officer was arrested for possession of child pornography.

Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District (Houston, Texas): A now-former officer was sentenced to one year in jail for pulling a female motorist over and asking for sexual favor in exchange for leniency on a minor drug charge.

Maypearl, Texas (First reported 07-16-15): The now-former chief was indicted on multiple charges involving sex crimes against minors. He also faces a separate civil suit for bullying.

Henderson, Texas: An officer has been accused of sex crimes against a child.

Fort Smith, Arkansas: An officer resigned after his arrest for sexual solicitation.

All of the above incidents come from the nine-day period ending October 30, 2015. 

A second Associated Press report on sex-crime-committing cops, this one from Martha Irvine and Scott Smith, looked at how policy flaws, technological glitches, and the current culture of policing allows predator cops to thrive. The reporters blame numerous "critical breakdowns in policies and procedures," including "a lack of supervision and training fueled by budget cuts; misuse or malfunction of electronic systems meant to monitor officers; warning signs about potential misconduct that was overlooked; and a good old boy culture in which inappropriate behavior was ignored or even condoned." 

The AP's third installment (again from Merchant and Sendansky) further explores how lax police policies lead to sex-predator officers. "Six states, including New York and California, have no decertification authority over officers who commit misconduct," the note. And even in states where police standards agencies can revoke officer licenses, many rely on local departments to volunteer info about officer arrests, which often doesn't happen, or can only decertify an officer after a criminal conviction.