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Back to Archives | Back to August 2013 Contents 

Research in Brief: Sex-Related Police Misconduct

By Philip M. Stinson, JD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Criminal Justice Program, Bowling Green State University; and John Liederbach, PhD, Associate Professor, Criminal Justice Program, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio

The problem of sex-related police misconduct has been widely recognized and documented by scholars and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.1 The IACP recently described sex-related police misconduct as a “reality” facing police executives and a problem that “warrants the full attention of law enforcement.”2 Opportunities for sex-related misconduct are plentiful within the context of police work and are the product of several factors including (1) low visibility decision-making, (2) low supervision, (3) police power and authority, and (4) encounters involving vulnerable victims. Scholars have defined the problem in terms of a continuum that includes both less serious forms of police sexual misconduct and more serious types of police sexual violence.3

This study provides empirical data on an unprecedented number of cases involving police sexual misconduct and violence, as well as unique findings regarding the victims of these crimes and exploratory analyses designed to identify the factors that influence organizational and criminal case outcomes.


Data were collected as part of a larger study on police crime that identifies police officers arrested for any type of criminal offense. The larger study on police crime identified 2,149 criminal cases that involved the arrest of 1,773 sworn officers from 2005-2007. Data were collected from published news articles using the Google News search engine and its Google Alerts email update service. Arrests of police officers involving sex-related police misconduct were coded in terms of

  • the arrested officer,
  • the employing agency,
  • each of the charged offenses,
  • victim characteristics,
  • organizational employment outcomes, and
  • the dispositions of criminal cases.

Data derived from the news searches are limited to cases that involved an arrest. These data are the result of a filtering process that includes discretion by media sources in terms of the types of stories covered and the nature of the content devoted to particular stories.


Within the larger data set, the study identified 548 cases that involved the arrest of 398 police officers for crimes involving sex-related misconduct. The most serious offense charged in 21.4 percent of these cases was forcible rape. Other commonly charged serious offenses included forcible fondling (19.5 percent), statutory rape (10.8 percent), forcible sodomy (9.9 percent), pornography (7.1 percent), intimidation (4.6 percent), and online solicitation of a child (4 percent).

Data on victims’ ages were available for 323 of the cases (58.9 percent). The victims were less than 18 years of age in roughly three-fourths of these cases (n = 236 or 73 percent). Victims’ relationships to the arrested officer were identified in 521 of the cases (95 percent). Victims were most commonly identified as stranger/acquaintance (n = 237 or 43.2 percent) or an unrelated child (n = 223 or 40.7 percent). A very small number of cases were identified as involving victims who were a current spouse (n = 3), current girlfriend or boyfriend (n = 7), or former girlfriend or boyfriend (n = 4).

Multivariate analyses were conducted to examine case outcomes including criminal case disposition and job loss. Results indicated that the likelihood of conviction was significantly influenced by both the arrested officer’s age and the type of law enforcement agency. In cases where there has been an arrest for sex-related misconduct, courts seem to treat older arrested officers and those employed by state or county sheriff’s offices more harshly than younger officers and those employed by municipal agencies. Likewise, several factors appear to significantly influence whether an officer loses his or her job as a result of an arrest for sex-related misconduct. The odds of arrested officers losing their job increase in cases where the officer had been

  • convicted on a related criminal charge,
  • previously sued in federal court for civil rights violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, and
  • employed in a metropolitan (more urbanized) county.

The odds of conviction also increase in cases where news articles report an agency scandal or cover-up associated with the sex-related misconduct arrest. The odds of an arrested officer losing his or her job decrease in cases where the officer had been suspended after an arrest on sex-related misconduct charges.


The news search methodology resulted in the identification and description of an unprecedented number of cases of sex-related police misconduct. Previous studies in this line of research had been limited in terms of sample size because the research designs (for example, officer surveys and case studies) often focused on sex-related misconduct within a single agency or a small number of police agencies.

Findings in regard to certain victim characteristics run counter to popular conceptions about the nature of these types of cases. The identified sex-related misconduct cases most often involved victims who were minors and/or victims who were strangers or children who were not related to the perpetrating officer. The victims in the identified cases were rarely the officers’ spouse or girlfriend. Cases involving victims who are children and/or unrelated to the arrested officer may be prevalent in this sample because they are more likely to result in an arrest than other types of cases involving sex-related misconduct; however, the sheer number of cases involving victims who were children under the age of 13 (n = 81) or minor teens (n = 155) should raise awareness among police executives of the nature of sex-related misconduct and the potential for cases involving children and minor victims.

Data on the prevalence of these cases augment existing recommendations of the IACP on addressing sexual offenses and misconduct by law enforcement.4 The IACP recommends a course of action that includes the consideration of specific sexual misconduct policies and programs beyond existing policies that cover sexual harassment and/or conduct unbecoming provisions. These recommendations also include strategies for more effective oversight involving the use of early intervention systems for monitoring and preventing misconduct and psychological fit-for-duty examinations in cases where an officer has demonstrated inappropriate or suspicious behavior. ♦

1International Association of Chiefs of Police, Addressing Sexual Offenses and Misconduct by Law Enforcement: Executive Guide (Alexandria, Va.: International Association of Chiefs of Police, 2011).
2Ibid., 1.
3See, for example, Peter B. Kraska and Victor E. Kappeler, “To Serve and Pursue: Exploring Police Sexual Violence against Women,” Justice Quarterly 12, no. 1 (March 1995): 85–111; Cara E. Rabe-Hemp and Jeremy Braithwaite, “An Exploration of Recidivism and the Officer Shuffle in Police Sexual Violence,” Police Quarterly 16, no. 2 (June 2013): 127–147, first published online November 19, 2012.
4International Association of Chiefs of Police, Addressing Sexual Offenses and Misconduct by Law Enforcement: Executive Guide.

This project was supported by Award No. 2011-IJ-CX-0024 by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.The opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.

Please cite as:

Philip M. Stinson and John Liederbach, "Sex-Related Police Misconduct," Research in Brief, The Police Chief 80 (August 2013): 14–15.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXX, no. 8, August 2013. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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