Sexual Misconduct by Police Officers
As the nation has debated excessive force by police officers, another quietly pervasive issue was investigated by the AP: sexual misconduct by law enforcement. Sexual assault, which is already one of the most underreported crimes, is even less likely to be reported when the aggressor is a police officer. Victims fear retribution for reporting the officer, including from the officer’s coworkers. A former police chief explained how officers avoid convictions for on-the-job sexual assaults:
‘They knew the DAs. They knew the judges. They knew the safe houses. They knew how to testify in court. They knew how to make her look like a nut,’ she said. ‘How are you going to get anything to happen when he’s part of the system and when he threatens you and when you know he has a gun and … you know he can find you wherever you go?’
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the police officers who use their position of authority to coerce sexual favors often target minorities, immigrants, and individuals with criminal histories. A representative from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has stated that sexual misconduct by officers is happening “in every law enforcement agency across the country.”
Variations in reporting among states makes sexual misconduct by police officers difficult to track. The AP’s report is incomplete not only because of the reluctance of victims to come forward, but because certain states have no statewide system to decertify officers for misconduct. Even more troubling, those states who do decertify have failed to remove officers whose conduct had been reported in the press or in court, suggesting that bad conduct has been overlooked. Police departments have no legal responsibility to decertify officers guilty of such conduct, allowing the officers to move on to other departments with a clear record.
The IACP has called for the hiring of more women and minorities in order to change the environment within police departments, coupled with more stringent screening of potential hires. This includes background checks and a careful review of a candidate’s social media postings for red flags like the objectification of women.