They're the people we entrust to protect us and serve us, but what happens when they're the ones caught breaking the law? Whose job is it to police corrupt cops? On Your Side Investigator Anna Canzano goes behind the badge and uncovers the bizarre cases that have ended careers.
Nearly a thousand law enforcement officers in Oregon have had their license to enforce the law taken away over the last decade -- roughly one hundred a year. That's a fraction of the 11,000 people certified to work as police officers, corrections officers, and probation and parole officers.
Most decertification cases handled by Oregon's Department of Public Safety and Standards Training involve sex, drugs and alcohol or money.
In fact, alcohol comes up a lot. From the corrections officer convicted for negligent driving, who'd been untruthful about how much he'd had to drink, to the police officer busted for excessive consumption of alcohol. Case files also reveal an officer caught selling steroids who'd even tipped off his drug associates about a federal investigation.
When it comes to sex, the stories are wide-ranging. Boundaries are broken. Common sense seems to go right out the window.
Beyond officers having sex on duty, a cop was caught texting with a department cellphone to make arrangements for sexual encounters. A corrections officer recorded pornography on his work-issued cellphone. Yet another officer had Skype sex sessions on duty with the wife of someone he'd arrested. He also tried to get that wife to make false allegations against her husband to her husband's parole officer.
Some of the cases make the news.
It was a day care operator who noticed Oregon State Police Detective Richard Narvaez having sex with a prostitute in some bushes off Johnson Creek Boulevard in Clackamas last year.
And Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Juan Elenes went from receiving awards when he graduated from the police academy to losing his job for bringing wine to a depressed and alcoholic crime victim and taking advantage of her.
"It's unfortunately not that uncommon to see bad calls, bad judgment calls. It only takes one and your whole career could come crashing down," said Linsay Hale, the Professional Standards Division Director with Oregon's Department of Public Safety Standards & Training.
Often hidden from the headlines are the cases that are downright bizarre -- like the parole and probation officer who just couldn't stop excessively streaming music at work and using the Internet for non-business purposes. Or the corrections deputy who couldn't stop watching Netflix while on duty when he was supposed to be training a new recruit.
Portland police Officer Christina Nelson claimed she needed gall bladder surgery and even accepted donated time off from co-workers for her recovery. It turned out what she really got was a weight loss procedure.
Sometimes what the officers are caught doing is relatively benign, but what cost them their badges are the lies they tell about it. Take for instance, the officer who wrote a nasty note using foul language to a co-worker who'd parked too close to him. The case went all the way to handwriting analysis before he finally fessed up that he wrote the note. He wound up with a lifetime ban from law enforcement for simple dishonesty.
A cop's credibility is everything. If they're caught lying, they can't be used to testify in court against criminal defendants. But it is a jury of their peers that yanks these officers' badges. The committee includes officers and retired police chiefs and sheriffs from across Oregon. They review every case and vote on revocations and suspensions.
"People do dumb things," said Hale. "Officers are no different."
Between 2009 and 2013, the state of Oregon decertified 203 police officers -- about four percent of all those licensed. Ninety-four percent of decertified officers were male. Their average experience level was more than 12 years on the force. Roughly a third was decertified for criminal conduct. About two-thirds were decertified for on-duty conduct; about a third for off-duty behavior. And about half were decertified for dishonesty. More than 15 percent were decertified for sexual conduct. And 17 percent of those who lost their badges were supervisors and above; that's unique to police and not true of other disciplines like corrections, parole and probation and 911 dispatchers.
In a public records request, Anna Canzano and the On Your Side Investigative team obtained the complete list of cops who've had their law enforcement licenses revoked dating back nearly a decade. You can search this document by an officer's name or police agency.
Not every state has a review process like Oregon and Washington, and not every state is plugged into the national database of decertified law enforcement officers. There are documented instances of cops getting their badges yanked in Oregon but applying for jobs as police officers somewhere else. Oregon's process has been nationally recognized as being tough on officers, with the ability to decertify based on "moral fitness" standards.
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