‘Broken system’: Cops accused of sexual misconduct jump from job to job, investigation reveals

© Fred Dufour
A “tattered network” of laws has allowed law enforcement officers accused of sexual abuse to hop from job to job, according to an AP investigation. Some of the officers were accused of additional misdeeds – including rape – after moving to new positions.

 AP found about 1,000 law enforcement officers who had lost their badges due to sex crimes in six years. Those crimes included rape, as well as sexual misconduct ranging from propositioning citizens to having intercourse while on duty. Data on police officers, jail guards, deputies, and other state law enforcement officials was analyzed during the investigation.

However, the number of police offenders found does not represent all cases, because it only includes those whose licenses to work in law enforcement had been revoked – a punishment which not all states mete out. In states which do revoke badges, the process can often take years.

Agencies responsible for enforcing police standards can revoke the badges of problem officers in 44 states. However, some states – including California and New York, which have several of the country’s largest law enforcement agencies – have no statewide system to decertify officers for misconduct. AP also found that some states which do have such systems failed to identify officers removed for sexual misconduct, even in cases that had been made public in the media or court records.

In states that do not decertify officers, police standards agencies rely on local departments to investigate and report conduct deemed questionable. However, reporting requirements vary, and about 20 states can decertify only after a criminal conviction.

Meanwhile, the news agency found that some officers are allowed to quietly resign and never face decertification. Others are permitted to keep working because departments may not be required to report all misdeeds to a state police standards commission or simply neglect to do so. AP went on to state that agencies may not be checking references when hiring or may fail to share problems with officers’ new employers.

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The investigation found one case involving a woman who sued the Grand Junction Police Department in Colorado in 2010, stating that she had been raped by officer Glenn Coyne one year prior. She said that the department had made a mistake in hiring the cop and had failed to supervise the officer.

Coyne was fired and killed himself days after being arrested, but it wasn’t the first time the officer had faced allegations of sexual assault. In fact, it was the third time.

Earlier, while Coyne was with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office, another woman accused him of subjecting her to a strip search and groping her. The allegation came after the Grand Junction department had conducted a background check, and Mesa County officials did not investigate or inform Coyle’s new employer of the situation.

In another previous incident, the officer was accused of sexual assault by a woman in 2008 while working for the Grand Junction department. He was placed on probation and his pay was cut, but the district attorney declined to prosecute.

A court ruling regarding Coyne said the handling of the officer “could and should have been better,” although the courts found no evidence of deliberate neglect by police in employing the cop.

Although a National Decertification Index exists and contains the names of nearly 20,000 officers who have lost their licenses, participation in the index is entirely voluntary – and only 39 states take part. There have been calls to make participation mandatory since 1996, a move which police unions say is unnecessary.