Recent cases show Arizona officers busted for sexual misconduct

PHOENIX - Police are trusted and armed and 99.9 percent of all officers are kind protectors. But in rare instances, cops take advantage of their power in the form of sexual misconduct. 

The national #MeToo movement has shined a bright light on institutional harassment and sexism, from the halls of Congress to the studios of Hollywood. Police are hardly exempt from that scrutiny, and some say abuse hiding behind a badge happens more often than the numbers show.  

Show Low police dispatch radio from 2016 recorded an officer on open mic engaging in an overtly sexual situation. The officer was fired and his state police officer certification suspended.  

But that instance is tame compared to some of the other cases around our state over the past two years. 

In just the last quarter of 2017, the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board revoked the certification of four officers for sexual misconduct. 

That included a Department of Public Safety officer who was allegedly spying on his 14-year-old step-daughter in the shower, and a Glendale officer who sent sexual pictures to his 16-year-old step-daughter. 

Another incident involved a San Carlos Tribal Police officer, who was accused of having sex with his girlfriend and two other women while on duty, then lying to investigators about the situation. A fourth officer from Scottsdale police was accused of sexual contact with a domestic violence victim. 

"Unfortunately it doesn't shock me or surprise me at all," said Philip Stinson, a criminologist and associate professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University.

Stinson has been studying police officer crime for years, and said sexual misconduct among police is likely under-reported. 

"One of the problems is, who do you call when the crime that's been committed against you is a police officer?" said Stinson. 

Over the past two years, the AZ POST has revoked certification on 11 officers, suspended six, and allowed eight to surrender their badges, all for sexual misconduct. Maybe most disturbing of all those cases, were the three times officers took advantage of a suspect or victim.

Take, for example, the Scottsdale officer mentioned above. He lost his badge for allegedly making sexual advances on a woman after arresting her boyfriend for domestic violence. The AZ POST report said the woman was highly intoxicated when the incident happened. She claimed that the officer waited for other first responders to leave before taking off her clothes and rubbing his privates on hers. 

"Often times, the victims are the most vulnerable people that you can imagine," said Stinson. "The people that have the least social capital."

The executive director of the AZ POST, Jake Lane, said the power police wield is the reason these cases are taken so seriously, with many resulting in an officer losing the privilege of wearing a badge in Arizona.  In some cases, there are separate criminal prosecutions against the offending officers. 

However, some officers we spoke with for this story believe police sexual misconduct is likely lower than the private sector, thanks to the extensive background checks for police recruiters. It's hard to say for sure because private companies aren't subject to open records requests.  

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