In an investigation of sexual misconduct by U.S. law enforcement officers, the Associated Press uncovered roughly 1,000 officers who lost their badges in a six-year period for rape, sodomy and other sexual assault; sex crimes that included child pornography possession; or sexual misconduct such as propositioning citizens or having consensual but prohibited on-duty intercourse. The number is an undercount because it includes only officers whose licenses to work in law enforcement were revoked; not all states take such action. California and New York, which include several of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies, did not provide records because they have no statewide system to decertify officers for misconduct. Even among states that provided records, some reported no officers removed for sexual misdeeds even though cases were identified via news stories or court records.
“It’s happening probably in every law enforcement agency across the country,” said Chief Bernadette DiPino of the Sarasota, Fl., Police Department, who helped study the problem for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “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.” Even as cases nationwide have prompted a national conversation about excessive force by police, sexual misconduct by officers has largely escaped widespread notice because of what the AP calls “a patchwork of laws, piecemeal reporting and victims frequently reluctant to come forward because of their vulnerabilities — they often are young, poor, struggling with addiction or plagued by their own checkered pasts.” Lawyers and police chiefs told the AP that some departments stay quiet about improprieties to limit liability, allowing bad officers to quit quietly, keep their certification and sometimes jump to other jobs. The officers involved in such wrongdoing represent a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands whose jobs are to serve and protect. Their actions have an outsized impact. They mire departments in litigation that leads to costly settlements, crippling relationships with a wary public and scarring victims with a special brand of fear.