Longform

The Boy Scouts' Police Problem

Page 4 of 5

In February 2004, their passionate e-mails intercepted, they came clean to department investigators about their liaison. Bremerton's then-police chief, Robert Forbes, in a written reprimand, told Meade that though Bethany was of age, the officer had brought shame upon himself, the department, and the Explorer program by sleeping with her. "You were in a position of power and apparent, if not actual, authority," Chief Forbes wrote, sparks all but flying from his keyboard. Bethany, he added, "continued to refer to you by your title as an officer, not by your first name."

Forbes handed down a 10-day suspension without pay. Meade, claiming ignorance of the no-fraternization policy, filed an appeal. Bremerton's rule prohibiting outside relationships between cops and Explorers had been created just as Meade and Bethany were getting acquainted—after the supervisor in charge of the Explorers, having heard about Walker's report, decided to update the Explorer manual. But the same language never made it into the department's official rule book.

Citing that oversight, an arbitrator found that Meade hadn't been properly informed, and reduced his punishment to a written reprimand. Bethany wasn't so lucky. Expelled from the Explorers, her career in law enforcement was over before it had begun.

Six years later, when an outgoing 18-year-old brunette with chipmunk cheeks and a fondness for police officers signed up as an Explorer, the integrity of Bremerton's police department would again be put to the test. "Natalie" quickly made an immediate impression on both the departmental rank-and-file and the top brass, friending officers on Facebook, chatting with them online, and going on ride-alongs as often as she could.

Having built up her online network, Natalie sought to hang out with her new police friends away from work. One officer took her to dinner and a movie, invited her over, and allowed her to spend the night in his bed, but denied having sex with her. Another, Captain Tom Wolfe, took Natalie to a pizza joint, where he was seen caressing her inner thigh in public (an assertion he denies), and gave her special assignments that allowed her to bring home confidential paperwork. A third officer, Brandon Greenhill, admitted to inviting Natalie to his house while his wife was out of town and, as a movie played on TV, having sex with her.

The first officer, along with four others suspected of improper relations with Natalie, was cleared of wrongdoing by a subsequent department investigation. Wolfe and Greenhill were found to have broken department rules. But because the no- fraternization policy still hadn't made it into the department's official rule book, both officers, like Meade before them, received nothing more than written reprimands. Like Bethany, Natalie was kicked out of the program.

The investigation did yield one positive result: The department's rule book has since been updated. It is now officially forbidden for Bremerton cops to sleep with Explorers.

"To have an incident like that and not have policies in place is inexcusable," says Jeffrey Noble, the police accountability expert. "But then it happens again? That is outrageous. Someone is asleep at the wheel."

 

In the years since Walker's report brought police-on-Explorer sex into the open, Bremerton has not been the only department faced with an embarrassing lack of leadership.

In Tualatin, Ore., the extent of an Explorer sex case—the second such case in the small department in recent years—which included a female Explorer, three officers, and a state patrolman was not revealed until The Oregonian undertook a months-long investigation. It found that at least a third of Tualatin's 36-member police force had known of the abuse for years before any action was taken.

Two years ago in Madison, Conn., police chief Paul Jakubson resigned after an outside investigation found that he had "deliberately and repeatedly ignored, condoned, and thereby facilitated sexual misconduct" for more than a decade. In addition to turning a blind eye to his officers' having sex with prostitutes, Jakubson allegedly reversed a lieutenant's decision barring an officer from repeatedly taking an underage Explorer on ride-alongs, thereby allowing that officer to continue to have sex with the girl unimpeded.

And earlier this year, in the San Bernardino case, it took months for a complaint from an administrator at a 15-year-old Explorer's school that a sheriff's deputy had an unusually close relationship with her to result in an investigation that quickly found they'd been sleeping together all along. The inquiry found that another deputy was also having sex with a different Explorer. Both men were fired and face criminal charges. A third deputy suspected of similar behavior was allowed to remain in his job.

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Jonathan Kaminsky