Saving Law Enforcement Organizations From Themselves

PHOTO SOURCE: CBS Dallas Forth-Worth. Then officer Kelly Helleson caught on a dashboard camera preparing to perform a cavity search on a woman under the suspicion of marijuana possession.

In a recent Reason.com blog post author Mike Riggs points to a clear example of the many failings of the ongoing Drug War, the stigmatization of human beings. This stigmatization leads to the objectification of people, which in turn provides fodder for inappropriate humor. I am not a prude, and I participated in gallows humor for years, there were times as a police officer that it was my only way to maintain my sanity, but I always understood who my audience was, and always lived by the rule of laughing with people, not at people.  As a strong proponent of American civil liberties, I also believe in our First Amendment rights, but realize that those in law enforcement (even if they are not cops) or in positions of authority as Dale Roberts is as a University of Missouri law professor and instructor at the same school’s Law Enforcement Training Center, should be held to a different standard even in their personal lives.

A Texas state trooper charged with sexually assaulting two women during a traffic stop was providing them with “customer service,” says Dale Roberts, the executive director of the Columbia Police Officers Association (CPOA) and a professor at the University of Missouri. (The CPOA is a part of the Fraternal Order of Police, one of the country’s largest police unions.) “It’s called Customer Service!” Roberts wrote in a March 27 Facebook post about the indictment of Texas State Trooper Kelly Helleson, who was charged with two counts of sexual assault after conducting an illegal roadside strip search of two women. “We just did it so they wouldn’t have to make the trip all the way down to the station,” he added. A screenshot of Roberts’s post was taken by Keep Columbia Free, a civil liberties blog run by Mark Flakne.

What I find most loathsome is that Professor Roberts, who is an attorney, former judge, Constitutional Law professor, and the head of the Columbia Police Officers Association, clearly does not recognize his moral failings as he laughs about two innocent women victimized by law enforcement.

On December 19, 2012 the victims were subjected to an unconstitutional body cavity search simply based on the allegation of the smell of marijuana. For those who are not familiar with the case, the women were driving and were pulled over for a littering violation. In California this is simply a traffic ticket, an infraction that should not result in anything more than a summons to court. Yet the trooper alleged that he then smelled marijuana. He conducted a search of the vehicle (I question the legality of the search, but that’s another article) while a female Texas State Trooper conducted an invasive road-side body cavity search that is alleged to include inserting her fingers inside the victim’s vagina and rectum without even changing her latex gloves. When no marijuana was found, the driver was given a field sobriety test and then released with a warning for the littering violation.

When I saw this story and viewed the videotape, I was simply stunned. The victims have filed a lawsuit and the female trooper was terminated and is awaiting a criminal trial.  The taxpayers will once again suffer by having to pay a large settlement for the malfeasance, while the media and our political and law enforcement leaders will label this an isolated event instead of looking at it as an example of the culture that surrounds the enforcement of the Drug War.

This case is a clear example of the Machiavellian effect that the Drug War has had on the police. What is so astonishing is the lack of judgment as expressed by Dale Roberts in his Facebook post. Given his gross lapse in judgment, I find it ironic that he is a lead instructor at a law enforcement training center as well as a Constitutional Law professor. But more chilling for me is that his statement is so similar to others that I heard while a sex crimes investigator that the victim is somehow to blame for the suspect’s actions, or that she enjoyed being victimized.

So the Drug War marches on with more victims, collateral damage to a futile attempt to control human nature. All the while, supposed criminal justice professionals like Roberts continue to influence a profession that I loved, changing our course from protecting those we have sworn to serve to victimizing them at unknown cost to our humanity. Professor Roberts, I would simply ask you that if this were your wife, your daughter or someone you loved, would you be so callous? I think not. So I offer a bit of advice that I used to tell my officers:  Before you say or do something, ask yourself if your mother would be proud of your words or actions, and would you be happy to see it on the front page of the news? Clearly, with this remark, you failed both standards, and would have done well to remember that even if you are not a real police officer, as the head of their union you don’t just represent yourself, but also a profession that you have brought to a new low.