AUGUSTA — A bill that would have made it a crime for police officers to engage in sexual relations with domestic assault victims has been amended to make the activity an administrative violation.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Julie Ann O’Brien, R-Augusta, at the request of Attorney General Andrew Ketterer, who said he was concerned with the number of such cases being investigated by his office.
He cited six cases in 18 months and said the activity seemed to be occurring on a somewhat regular basis.
The original bill would have made it a crime for an officer to engage in relations with a domestic abuse victim within six months of the reported abuse. The extent of the activity, whether sexual contact or sexual intercourse, would have determined whether the crime was a misdemeanor or felony.
But the bill was watered down as it went to a work session before the Criminal Justice Committee last week and now will make such conduct an administrative violation that could result in the decertification of a police officer, Ketterer said.
The amendment also calls for the six-month period to be reduced to 60 days.
The changes actually improve the bill, Ketterer said Tuesday, and put police officers on an equal footing with physicians and lawyers who could face professional sanctions, but not criminal ones, if they engaged in similar conduct.
The committee unanimously voted to recommend passage of the amended bill.
“I was just searching for an intelligent way to deal with something that I see as a troublesome issue,” Ketterer said.
In testimony before the committee, Ketterer described a scenario in which a police officer responds to a call of domestic violence, arrests the batterer and returns later to get a statement from the victim.
Too often, he said, the police officer is viewed as a savior by the vulnerable victim and a sexual relationship ensues.
Under the proposed bill, police officers could begin a relationship with a domestic violence victim, if they still desired to, 60 days after the abuse was reported.
Concerns were voiced by law enforcement officials that such legislation could make officers vulnerable to false allegations.
Ketterer said such false allegations could be made with or without the legislation.
Gardiner Police Chief Michael Coty, president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said police officers needed to take precautions in many circumstances, including those of domestic violence.
“They need to use tape recorders and make careful documentation and make sure their interviews are held in appropriate places so they don’t get themselves into those types of situations,” Coty said.
The chief said he was unaware that there was a problem in the state with police officers’ having relations with domestic abuse victims and said there was no room in the police community for officers who would engage in such conduct.
Coty said he felt such conduct already would be viewed as a professional violation and considered “conduct unbecoming of an officer.”
“I don’t know about the need for the law,” he said. “I would consider such activity by an officer as unethical conduct and grounds for disciplinary action without the law. Basically this law legislates common sense. Officers don’t normally do that. They shouldn’t do that and if they do, they should be weeded out.”