"They have this outlaw mentality: 'We can do whatever we want to do; we're the police.' And they don't feel accountable."—Penny Harrington, co-founder of the National Center for Women and Policing (NCWP) and the former chief of the Portland, Oregon, police bureau, quoted in the Guardian in an important piece about law enforcement officers in Kern County, California, "which has the highest per capita rate of officer-involved deaths anywhere in the US so far this year" and "a string of sexual misconduct cases involving officers, and a pattern of secretive attempts to pay off victims with small sums of cash."
At least eight vulnerable victims were offered – and in some cases accepted – cash payoffs by the sheriff's office shortly after the alleged abuse occurred. These payments, in some cases as low as $200, absolved the department of civil liability and were made without the presence of lawyers, according to a review of depositions, internal sheriff's office memos and victims' accounts. [Lerdo jail warden Anthony Lavis] was one of two Kern County deputies convicted in the past five years for assaulting multiple women.Police and prison staff operating with impunity are sexually assaulting and/or harassing female colleagues, child and adult female prisoners, and women who turn to them for help. And then they pay them off, for as little as $200.
Meanwhile the police department in Bakersfield, Kern County's biggest city, is facing allegations from a former female trainee officer that she was fired and placed on a national blacklist barring her from becoming a police officer elsewhere after complaining about sexual harassment from male officers.
Among other claims, the former officer accuses colleagues of calling her a whore, telling her that she was expected to have sex with them, and bullying her about her physical appearance. The department employs 27 women out of a total of 355 sworn officers, well below the national average for large departments.
Just yesterday, in closing arguments of the Daniel Holtzclaw trial, prosecutors said that the former cop, who was charged with 36 counts of sexual assault, including six first-degree rape counts for attacks on 13 black women, was able to victimize so many women and so brazenly because he "targeted his victims by going after women he came across while on patrol. He ran background checks and went after those who had outstanding warrants, previous arrests or carried drugs or drug paraphernalia."
They said he did this because he did not think authorities would take the victims' word over his if he had to defend himself against sexual assault allegations.We are hearing about what happened in Kern County and what Holtzclaw did because someone, somewhere, did care eventually. But when so many police departments have what Harrington describes as an "outlaw mentality," and no fear of accountability, how many women are harmed and failed by police, whose stories we never hear?
"He didn't choose CEOs or soccer moms. He chose women he could count on not telling what he was doing," prosecutor Lori McConnell said. "He counted on the fact no one would believe them and no one would care."
Again, remember this story the next time you hear some asshole arguing that survivors of sexual violence should be required to report and compelled to cooperate with police, and the next time you hear some asshole say or do anything that suggests a woman reporting an assault shouldn't be believed.
When people lose faith in the justice system, they wonder what else they are supposed to do to support survivors. And I tell them this, always: Believe us. Believe us.