We don’t really know how many police officers are also perps, and there’s a reason for that. As a 2016 study funded by the Department of Justice put it, “Surprisingly little is known about the crimes committed by law enforcement officers, in part because there are virtually no official nationwide data collected, maintained, disseminated, and/or available for research analyses.”
Lots of power (and firepower) and little oversight are not a reassuring combination. Last fall, a retired Baltimore cop wrote a powerful piece about the post-traumatic stress he was struggling with as a result of the abuse he saw and participated in over his 18 years in the force. “The academy did not teach us the fundamental difference between power and authority,” he said, “or how to judiciously apply either.”
A recent snapshot of the 16 Kansas police officers who lost their peace officer certifications just in July and August isn’t encouraging, either. And while it’s difficult to put that snapshot in complete context, given the lack of statistics, these 16 cases do tell a story. It’s one that has to start with the fact that at least a third of those were in trouble over violence against women or other sex crimes.
A fuller list of 35 recent police cases reviewed by the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training showed that about a third in all were found guilty of some kind of sexual misbehavior.
What exactly are we talking about? Abuse of power, domestic and child abuse, preying on a crime victim and on several suspects, and harassing female colleagues.
▪ Let’s start with a case that’s felony-level dumb, but a clear abuse of power, too: An officer ran license plate and warrant checks on the coworkers of his girlfriend as a favor to her. He agreed to arrest one of these coworkers in return for oral sex, then “actively attempted to find him.”
▪ Another officer was convicted of the felony sexual exploitation of a child.
▪ Another was convicted of aggravated battery after fondling a female prisoner as he was transporting her to jail.
▪ Yet another was convicted of aggravated battery after fondling a female inmate through the “chow hole” that’s supposed to be used to pass in meal trays.
▪ After being accused of sexually harassing colleagues, an officer was found to have “romantically engaged” with five coworkers. “Romantic” is not how we’d describe that behavior.
▪ An officer-turned-stalker “relentlessly worked to conduct surveillance and take enforcement actions against his ex-girlfriend, her new boyfriend” and her brother, too. He got other officers to follow them as well. Some of these other officers knew it was their colleague’s ex they were chasing; others did not. “Both her boyfriend and brother received citations as a result of the officer’s enforcement campaign,” the report said. The officer was charged with felony computer crimes, stalking and official misconduct. After a plea bargain, he was convicted of four counts of official misconduct and one count of assault.
▪ A former officer working as a teacher had sex with a 17-year-old student and was convicted on two felony counts of unlawful sexual relations.
▪ Another officer was charged with three counts of aggravated indecency with a child.
▪ After issuing a citation rather than a traffic ticket to a female driver, an officer used that information to contact her. “He also made comments about being able to find the female, with the help of other officers, when she was back in the area. The officer’s comments scared the female, who reported the comments to his agency.”
▪ After fondling a 15-year-old crime victim, an officer was convicted on three counts of sexual battery.
▪ An officer who pushed his wife, broke furniture and injured his son when he tried to intervene to protect his mother was convicted on one count of domestic battery, one count of battery and two counts of criminal damage to property, all misdemeanors.
Given that, as researchers from Bowling Green State University said in a 2014 study, police sexual misconduct is mostly a “hidden crime that routinely goes unreported,” these cases suggest a far larger problem.
The 2014 study of 500 police arrests over three years showed that 20 percent of those involved rape charges, and another 20 percent involved fondling.
Yes, there are bad actors in every line of work. No doubt most cops are not predators but predator-catchers. These recent Kansas cases do show that some of those who commit these crimes and others are are being held accountable. Last year, Kansas passed a law that made it a crime for a law enforcement officer to have sexual relations with any person who is pulled over in a traffic stop, interrogated or detained.
But this is neither a fringe issue nor one that’s been resolved in our community. When we appeal to potential witnesses to help police solve homicides and punish killers whose impunity is such a terrible problem in this city, we’re asking them to trust officers who have to be worthy of that trust.