They say that once is an isolated incident, twice is a coincidence and three times denotes a pattern.

On Jan. 12, former Greensboro police officer Kenneth Eugene Adams was charged with sexual battery, assault on a female and giving alcohol to an underage person. Eight days later, on Jan. 20, another former Greensboro police officer, Joshua Daniel Oliver, was charged with six counts of statutory sex offense and six counts of indecent liberties with a minor. Then, on Jan. 31, Matthew Hammonds, a former crime analyst with the Greensboro Police Department, was arrested and charged with three counts of felony second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor. All were fired from the department after their arrests which happened in quick succession during a single month, earlier this year.

When the arrests first took place, several local media outlets reported the crimes. But a deeper look into the patterns of behavior within law enforcement that can lead to these kinds of crime remained untouched.

Is it just coincidence that three staff members — two of them sworn officers — from the same department were all arrested and charged of sex crimes in one month? Data and research into the broader culture of policing provides insight into these recent events.

Dara Purvis

“Some of the deepest rooted problems are that the police departments embody this sense of dominance,” said Dara Purvis, professor of law and the assistant dean of research and partnership at Penn State Law. “This is a way to prove that you have power over the people in your community. And it’s made worse because it becomes part of the job. In the context of sexual assault, sexual violence can become a sign of dominance.”

In press releases by GPD about the arrests, it was made clear that none of the offenders were on duty when the crimes occurred. Even so, Purvis, who co-authored a 2020 article published in the California Law Review looking at sex crimes committed by police, said that three firings in one month show that the problem isn’t just “some bad apples.”

“I think it’s clear that there is much more going on with that,” she said. “That it’s a systemic problem that’s going on in these instances.”

What does the data show?

According to a six-year investigation by the Associated Press published in 2015 that looked at data from 2009-14, 990 officers lost their law enforcement licenses because of sexual assault or other sex-related allegations. Of the 990, 549 or 55 percent were decertified because of allegations of rape, child molestation and other acts defined as sexual assault by the Deparment of Justice. Forty-four percent lost their licenses for other sex crimes, such as possessing child pornography, as in the instance of Matthew Hammonds.

According to the Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project 2010 Annual Report, “sexual misconduct was the second most common form of misconduct reported throughout 2010.”

And that’s with the understanding that sexual crimes go underreported.

“We know that victims of sexual assault don’t report it; it’s underreported,” Purvis said. “Formally reporting it for a whole variety of reasons is difficult. And that’s magnified when the perpetrator is a police officer. You’re asking to report to people he knows, trusts, works with.”

A study published by Bowling Green State University in 2014 backs up this fact.

“Cases of sex-related misconduct and crime have been described as hidden offenses that are likely to go unreported and, hence, difficult to document and study,” the study reports. “Victims may not report instances of police sexual misconduct to authorities because they feel humiliated or they may fear retaliation. Victims may also encounter barriers to filing a complaint since that process can be unnecessarily difficult and/or intimidating.”

Even the Department of Justice acknowledges this as a problem.

“Because victims of sexual misconduct by law enforcement may be in the custody or under the authority of their perpetrators, these crimes often go unreported,” their fact sheet states. “Victims may not know to whom they can report.” 

And even if survivors are able to report the issues, oftentimes that data is hard to access by the wider public.

“Researchers are also hard-pressed for data on cases that do get officially reported because of the reluctance of officers and organizations to expose cases of sex-related police misconduct to outside scrutiny,” the Bowling Green study states.

For the purposes of this article, Triad City Beat requested the names of all GPD staff and officers who have been fired from the department in the last five years due to sex-related crimes. That public records request was filed on Feb. 9 and has yet to be fulfilled.

And part of the reason for that may be because institutions are less likely to admit when an officer has committed a crime on duty, compared to the ones who were fired from GPD recently who were off-duty.

“It probably is relevant that they were off duty,” Purvis said. “It’s not really intersecting with their official duties. I think there is more of an institutional interest of protecting the behavior of officers while they’re on duty than when they are in their personal life.”

One explanation could be what scholars and critics have called the “blue wall of silence.”

“There’s an immense amount of trust between officers,” Purvis said. “But if someone is accused of misconduct that trust operates to create a blue wall. They close ranks to protect one another. I know why it exists but it operates to magnify to make it difficult to bring allegations against an officer.”

In 2020, KQED and NPR analyzed records obtained through the California Reporting Project that found 103 instances of sexual misconduct by officers in California. In 35 of those cases, other officers knew but did not act; 33 of the cases involved nonconsensual or coercive sexual misconduct.

Another study from 2003 by Timothy Maher of the University of Missouri-St. Louis asked 40 officers from 14 police agencies how many of their fellow colleagues participated in sexual misconduct. The officers estimate that 36.5 percent of “all officers in their respective departments participated in at least one of the eight forms of misconduct.”

‘Police work is conducive to sexual misconduct’

So why does this happen?

Studies and experts argue that the very nature of policing creates a culture in which sexual misconduct is able to permeate.

“Police work is conducive to sexual misconduct,” the Bowling Green study states. “The job affords unique opportunities for rogue police officers to engage in acts of sexual deviance and crimes against citizens they encounter.”

In fact, data captured by the Cato Institute states that “sexual assault rates are significantly higher for police when compared to the general population.”

According to their data, there were 28.7 incidents of sexual assault by the general public per 100,000 people, compared to 67.8 incidents for law enforcement. That’s more than twice the rate comparatively.

“The reason why some people join police departments is because they feel disempowered and this is a way to take some power back,” Purvis explained. “That idea helps to explain Black police officers who partake in violence against a Black victim.”

That sort of power dynamic can extend to staff who aren’t sworn officers, Purvis said.

“Someone who is not a sworn officer but part of the police department is still part of that,” she said. “When asked, ‘What do you do?’ they’ll still say, ‘I work with the police.’”

Studies also note that police “commonly encounter citizens who are vulnerable.”

That was the case for the incidents involving the officers and staff fired from the GPD in January. In all three instances, the victims were underage. 

In the Cato Institute’s study, 52 percent of the victims were minors. 

Further data shows that, like with cases involving police brutality, the most marginalized communities are often the ones targeted.

The study that Purvis co-authored explains how officers typically “target the most vulnerable — namely women of color, transgender and gender-nonconforming people, victims of domestic abuse, and people suspected of engaging in criminalized activity” and how sexual misconduct disproportionately affects women of color.

What do the laws say?

In all 50 states, it is a crime for anyone, including officers, to commit sexual assault. The issue becomes grayer however, when it comes to the issue of sexual conduct between an officer and a person in custody.

Some states make it clear that any sexual contact between a police officer and a member of the public is a crime. 

In North Carolina, Gen. Statute 14-27.31 is not written specifically about police officers but notes that “sexual activity by a substitute parent or custodian” is a felony.

“If a person having custody of a victim of any age or a person who is an agent or employee of any person, or institution, whether such institution is private, charitable, or governmental, having custody of a victim of any age engages in vaginal intercourse or a sexual act with such victim, the defendant is guilty of a Class E felony,” the law states.

The law also notes that the argument of consent cannot be used against these charges.

“I think it’s an okay approach, but I think there is power specifically in talking about police officers because this is a problem that is happening much more than lawmakers realize,” Purvis said.

She also noted how the language is vague when it comes to the issue of “custody.”

“There are situations where people don’t feel comfortable walking away from a police officer,” Purvis said. “For example, Tyre Nichols, he hadn’t been arrested. So there’s a question of whether people are in custody. You can understand why someone wouldn’t feel comfortable walking away from a police officer, but a judge may say, ‘Well you weren’t under custody.’”

In recent years, some states like Montana have revised their criminal definitions of consent to exclude sex acts between officers and members of the public. And in May 2022, Congress passed the Closing the Law Enforcement Consent Loophole Act, which makes it a crime for a federal law enforcement officer to engage in any sexual activity with someone in custody, or while exercising their authority, regardless of consent. 

However, the question of how investigations of sex crimes by police start at the departmental level remain.

“Unfortunately, as with statutes prohibiting such behavior, most police departments do not have official policies regarding sexual activity with civilians,” Purvis states in the article.

A look at the Greensboro Police Department’s Directives, updated in 2022, shows that the department does not have a clear policy when it comes to sex crimes against the public. There is a more robust use-of-force section post-2020, but none of the wording specifically mentions sexual assault.

Instead, the directives just include a blanket rule in which officers must understandably comply with local, state and federal laws. It is also noted that “any employee charged with or arrested for a violation of a criminal or traffic law or ordinance… will report such fact in writing to the office of the Chief of Police within three business days. The report shall include all pertinent facts concerning the violation.”

It should be noted that the directives have policies that prohibit sexual misconduct between employees.

TCB has made a public records request asking for the termination letters for all employees fired from the GPD for sex-related crimes in the last five years.

The termination letters for Oliver and Adams note violations to Department Directives 1.5.1 General Conduct and 1.5.4 Compliance to Laws and Regulations as reasons for their firings.

In a statement, Greensboro Police Chief John Thompson responded to the arrest of John Oliver.

“No Chief wants to make this kind of announcement and it deeply saddens me to be doing so again” he said. “However, what is most important is that we do everything in our power to promote transparency when hard things happen. When any allegation is made against an officer, it is thoroughly investigated. Upon learning the details of this investigation, sharing with the community was paramount…. We hold our personnel accountable and have systems in place to assure accountability. It is my hope that a commitment to these systems, policies, and standards will maintain that trust and support.”

According to Josie Cambareri, the GPD’s public information officer, “sexual misconduct falls under the employee misconduct policy. If there are criminal allegations of any kind made against an employee, that would immediately begin an internal investigation while a criminal investigation occurs. Once GPD is aware of such allegations, the employee is placed on administrative duty while the allegations are investigated. At times, the allegations are so serious (i.e. sexual misconduct), that the chief may terminate employment before a criminal investigation is complete.”

Cambareri pointed to the corrective action procedures in 7.2.1 of the GPD directives for reference.

While all three of the former GPD staff members were arrested and charged for their crimes, it remains rare for officers to be charged due to inconsistent or absent departmental policies.

In January, the Greensboro Police Department fired three staff members, including two officers, for being arrested and charged for sex-related crimes. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

“I think that certainly arrests and criminal prosecutions are just the tip of the iceberg,” Purvis said. “You can read this criminal prosecution and say, ‘Well this is good, at least this police department is being more transparent,’ but it strikes me that these crimes are the clearest violations. There is no question of consent.”

If officers aren’t arrested or charged for their crimes, that can lead to a shuffling of police from department to department. This phenomenon has been called the issue of the “wandering cop,” and has been reported when it comes to the issue of police brutality, but is less understood when the crimes are sexual in nature.

“The officer shuffle occurs (and is criticized) for many types of misconduct, but it can be particularly problematic in the context of PSV as studies show that sexual offenders tend to commit their crimes over and over,” Purvis’ article states. “In general, sexual crimes have a high recidivism rate.”

According to the piece, one study found that approximately 40 percent of police sexual crimes were committed by an officer with at least one prior incident.

Prior demotions were not noted on any of the former GPD staff members’ pay records based on public records requests.

Kenneth Adams, 51, had worked at the department the longest, starting as a police officer in 2009. His starting salary was $32,500 and by the time he was fired in January, his salary was $64,841 per year. Officer Joshua Oliver had been with the department since September 2016. His starting salary was $36,444 and in January, it was $54,761. Lastly, Matthew Hammonds, the special crime analyst, started with GPD in 2018. His salary in 2019 was $46,570 and by January 2023, he was making $54,250 per year.

So what now?

Purvis said that she’d like to see more statutes and internal police rules make it clear that police should not engage in sexual conduct with members of the public.

A report published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police in 2011 supports this idea.

“While strong policies prohibiting sexual harassment are necessary, relying on existing sexual

harassment policies to cover matters of sexual misconduct involving members of the public is

completely inadequate,” the report states.

Purvis also thinks there needs to be an understanding that the broader culture of policing is leading to these kinds of crimes.

“There is something at the core that is feeding into the power dynamic between the police department and members of the public,” she said.

One of the solutions to changing the male-dominated culture of policing is to simply hire more female officers, her article argues. Additionally, discussions of masculinity and police culture have to be part of the process.

“Police officers … engage in the violence of hypermasculinity, but in a socially (and legally) acceptable way, justifying it as protection rather than danger,” Purvis writes in the California Law Review piece.

People are paying more attention to police brutality when it comes to the killing of unarmed people at the hands of police, but the conversation about sexual violence remains less visible.

“Police sexual violence is also a form of police brutality and should be included in any discussion addressing police violence against the public,” Purvis writes. “Categorizing PSV and police brutality separately perpetuates the notion that sexual assault of women of color and LGBTQ+ people by police officers is a less important problem than police violence against Black or African-American men.”

Part of the solution could be using police for less things, Purvis said.

“There are lots of services ostensibly provided by the police department that could be provided by other departments,” Purvis said. “Rather than thinking police departments can solve every single societal ill.”

And that’s a move that’s gained popularity in the last few years. In the Triad, Greensboro employs a co-response model while Winston-Salem is in the process of implementing an alternative response model for some 911 calls to be addressed by social workers alone.

Lastly, Purvis said that one solution that appears counterintuitive could be a key.

“Paying police officers more,” she said. “Because if you start to look at police officers who are coming from lower socioeconomic statuses, the power of the police officer is a way to gain some status. So what would happen if we paid them more and gave them status of a different kind that they didn’t have to take from other people. That runs counter to other suggestions, but there’s a variety of solutions.”

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