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Sexual abuse by a few police officers is a stain that must be eradicated

When someone abuses his power and breaks the law in the process, justice must be served. When that person turns out to be an agent of the law, the public trust is damaged and the legal process becomes even more imperative. A frightening reality that has gone little noticed across the country is the number of police officers who have been accused of sexual assault.

News staff reporter Matthew Spina thoroughly researched sexual abuse or misconduct by police officers across the nation, poring through reams of data. He was able to document more than 700 credible cases from the past 10 years, county by county and state by state. The information is available on The Buffalo News website, buffalonews.com.

The majority of police officers are honest and hardworking, as Spina’s article made clear. But among all those good cops are a few vicious ones. The use of unwarranted force has been documented, but the acts of sexual predators often go unreported and unpunished.

As Spina wrote, “In the past decade, a law enforcement official was caught in a case of sexual abuse or misconduct at least every five days. Nearly all were men. Nearly all victims were women, and a surprising number were adolescents.”

Bad cops believe they are above the law, according to a longtime officer quoted in the article. Norm Stamper started as a San Diego patrolman in 1966 and stayed on the job for more than 30 years. He saw a lot and wrote about criminal acts by cops in a book he published in 2005.

“You won’t find a major law enforcement agency that has been around for more than five minutes that has not had a chapter in its history of sexual abuse by a police officer on duty,” Stamper said.

Solving the problem will require changing a deep-seated culture, one that tolerates bad conduct by officers. Reforming that culture will involve, in part, better education and training and more transparency.

The first place to start is the screening process for police candidates. Some people should never put on a uniform.

As the article detailed, there have been cases right here. Joyce Pecky was one of the brave women who told her story, allowing The News, which does not normally identify the victims of sex-related crimes, to use her name. She wanted to expose the problem of police sexual misconduct and that is why it was important for her to tell the story of the now-former Buffalo police officer who terrorized her.

Greg O’Shei was a menace to society who targeted vulnerable women, including Pecky and another woman, Susan Phister, who also wanted to speak publicly. They were stalked and threatened into submission.

There are cases in which convicted officers have received long sentences, decades for some. But then there are the cases in which officers receive leniency.

In text messages, O’Shei admitted using his police powers to “coerce sexual favors.” However, neither of the two misdemeanors he pleaded guilty to involving the two women was a sexual charge, and he was sentenced to probation.

Just one of too many examples of a problem that must be wiped out.