©2012 Lou Reiter, Co-Director, PATC Legal & Liability Risk Management Institute (www.llrmi.com)
©2012 Steve Rothlein, PATC Legal & Liability Risk Management Institute (www.llrmi.com)
Sexual misconduct, unfortunately, has become a more frequent allegation for many police agencies, large and small. This article, however, deals with the officer or deputy who comes to work and his primary goal appears to be to have some form of sex. I say “he” because most of the police sexual predators are males. This article will also discuss some of the investigative steps you need to consider when you conduct investigations into all forms of sexual misconduct.
How Prevalent is the Problem?
While we don’t have an exact figure, analysis of POST records throughout the country reveal a large percentage of officer revocations occur as a result of sexual misconduct. The definition of corruption is the use of official position for personal gain. Instead of monetary gain, this form of corruption abuses the use of power to exploit victims for sexual purposes.
Some of the nicknames of police sexual predators that were convicted for on-duty sexual misconduct should have alerted supervisors to their conduct. “The Stalker” was a sergeant in Florida who preyed on women working in adult nude clubs. In Wisconsin the officer who targeted street prostitutes was referred to as “Detective Hell.” In Southern California the field officer who zeroed in on intoxicated women was called by fellow officers “the Las Colinas transport unit.” His sergeant testified he would brag about the beauty of the women he would arrest. This officer is now serving a 14-year prison term.
These cop predators commonly target similar types of females. Nearly all targeted females who were vulnerable in one way or another. One sought out young females, usually blond, in small compact cars. Another focused on immigrants from Central American countries. A motor cop targeted black, African born gypsy cab drivers. Many zero in on intoxicated females. Common targets are females involved in the sex business either as street prostitutes or adult nude clubs.
It’s easy to see that many of these victims might have different degrees of credibility problems. Some more than others. It becomes important to early on consider how you might be able to corroborate their allegations. According to the United States Department of Justice, (USDOJ) sexual crimes in general are severely under-reported. Their study revealed that in the general population, between 1992-2000, only 36% of rapes, 34% of attempted rapes, and 26% of sexual assaults are reported to the police. When the offender is a law enforcement officer, they will be more likely to target illegal immigrants and other victims who have credibility issues which prevent them from reporting the assault. These statistics make it reasonable to assume that the percentage of officer involved rapes and attempts are even much higher, and that this problem is much more serious than we realize.
Another commonality with these cop sexual predators is their pattern of conduct. Many will go to the same location for their sexual act. It’s important to try to get the victim to recall that location. Several cases have shown that the officers will throw their condoms out at these locations. This may establish DNA links to the incident. Other officers will give the victim their phone number or email address. In the predator’s mind he might think the encounter was consensual. Lately more of these predators are taking pictures, usually with their personal cell phone, of the victim in various stages of undress. This usually is from a request for the victim to expose her breasts.
These types of investigations have a very high potential for criminal conduct. Early on you need to determine how the investigation is going to be conducted. If you’re going to conduct it as a criminal investigation, you need to immediately think WARRANT. You’ll want to coordinate your investigation with the local prosecutor. This is the type of investigation that should be bifurcated. Get an outside agency to conduct the criminal aspect and your agency can retain the administrative side of the investigation. Remember, under Title 18, Section 242 of the Civil Rights Act, this type of sexual assault, committed under color of law can be prosecuted as a Federal civil rights violation.
Each investigation takes on its own format. But, here are some common investigative tools and focus points you might consider.
The interview with the victim is very significant. Who did she tell of the encounter and when. If the interview is reasonably close to the incident, you might ask her to survey her personal belongings to see whether anything is missing. Some predators like to take souvenirs. Ask the victim to recount the encounter in reverse order. Take the victim to the location of the stop and the final location of the encounter. Pay specific attention to whether there are any surveillance cameras along this route.
If the officer gave the victim his cell phone number or email address, you should consider doing a phone sting. This is very tricky, particularly when dealing with some victims such as teenagers or street people. You should script out the conversation, as you want the victim to respond. It’s probably a good idea to rehearse it with common responses you might expect from the officer.
Even with the problems with DNA, these types of investigations are prime for this type of evidence. Some victims actually save a sample on their clothing or from a wipe of their mouth. If a condom was used you might be able to locate it at the spot of the encounter.
A valuable source of evidence is from DMV checks by the targeted officer. Does he run other females frequently? Depending on your traffic citation system, you might conduct an audit to determine the percentage of males vs. females cited by this officer. You should consider conducting a callback to other females stopped by this officer. It is better to do it under the cover of a quality control check. So often other victims come forth after the incident hits the media. On citations, you might consider a court check. Some officers will write the female victim a citation and then not appear in court knowing the ticket will be dismissed. Sometimes they actually tell the victim that.
Many of our police vehicles today have GPS and videos. These are valuable and often disclose the officer making a conscious effort to hide his activities. A GPS tracking device and either audio or video surveillance device in the officer’s police vehicle is another consideration. These, however, depend on your state provisions on wiretapping. If you’re doing a criminal phase these will require a warrant, surveillance of the suspected officer might be an option to consider. On the administrative side of the investigation you need to address the issue in your policy and remove any reasonable expectation of privacy from the officer.
Cell phones and personal computers frequently are used by these cop predators. Again, if it’s a criminal investigation you should proceed by warrant. On the administrative side you can facilitate access to these personal items by drafting a policy that states any and all personal property used in the performance of duties and brought onto agency property or in agency vehicles is subject to disclosure when subject of an administrative investigation.
Another type of sexual predator cop is the pedophile. These individuals target vulnerable juveniles whom often have credibility issues and are very vulnerable. Police Explorer programs, while 99% worthwhile and positive character building organizations, have unfortunately been exploited in the past by pedophiles who abuse their positions to molest juveniles. This is shameless and tragic because one predator in that type of unit can destroy the reputation of an otherwise tremendous and worthwhile program. Agencies can minimize the infiltration of these individuals by taking some positive steps to include:
Careful selection of personnel with no previous complaints
No overnight camping trips
Training the Explorers how to recognize inappropriate behavior and what action they should take if they become aware of any potential misconduct.
Don’t be apathetic to this issue
Provide training to recruits and in-service personnel about this problem
When discovered, treat as a potential criminal violation and De-Certification
Require employees to report any violations and discipline those who fail to do so.
Issue a Directive that field supervisors should not conduct this type of investigation and it should be handled at the highest level
These are insidious acts of police misconduct. Don’t become complacent. Hopefully you and your agency will not encounter a cop sexual predator. But, be prepared. You can obtain a copy of the IACP Sexual Misconduct Guide at the following address:
Note: Court holdings can vary significantly between jurisdictions. As such, it is advisable to seek the advice of a local prosecutor or legal adviser regarding questions on specific cases. This article is not intended to constitute legal advice on a specific case.