Lawmakers introduce ‘no consent in custody’ legislation

Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Police officers are expected to enforce the law, not break it, but state lawmakers say there’s a loophole for some that commit sexual assault.

Currently in Pennsylvania, if a police officer sexually assaults someone in custody, they can claim in court that it was consensual. Some lawmakers want to change that.

It’s illegal for correctional officers and inmates to have sexual contact, but state Sen. Katie Muth (D-Berks/Chester/Montgomery) says that’s not always the case for other law enforcement officers.

“That loophole leads a lot to rapes and violations in the police car or wherever they would go for questioning and investigation,” Muth said.

Muth and state Rep. Chris Rabb (D-Philadelphia) are introducing “No Consent in Custody” legislation, Senate Bill 851 and House Bill 1807.

“No one should ever feel or worry they could potentially be a victim of sexual assault at the hands of a member of law enforcement,” Rabb said.

Under the legislation, any sexual contact between law enforcement and someone in custody would be a third-degree felony.

“This type of behavior is not tolerated,” Upper Allen Township police Chief James Adams said.

Adams says even one officer abusing his position is one too many.

“Saying it was consensual when you have somebody in your custody? It doesn’t fly as far as I’m concerned and it never should,” Adams said. “But I understand the burden of proof in criminal prosecutions and that’s what this focuses in on.”

Adams says the Legislature can help in other ways too.

“Possibly even some situations, instead of creating new legislation, mandating accreditation, which is not going to be the cure-all end-all but is certainly going to move for more professional policing across all of Pennsylvania,” Adams said.

Chief Al Walker, president of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, says his organization respects the duty of the Legislature.

“We would point out that there is currently a wide array of best practices and policy directives already in place by law enforcement agencies to prevent conduct as described in the legislative proposals,” Walker said.

Walker also pointed to the Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Accreditation Program.

“We believe that accreditation provides the platform for departments to develop and implement policy that is critical to law enforcement in providing outcomes that are consistent with the law, best practices, and assurance of meeting community standards and expectations,” Walker said.

Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police president Les Neri released a statement, saying “we think the current structure of the law already provides safeguards and protections for these types of crimes. If the Legislature wants to further clarify them, we have no objection to it and the penalties associated for the conduct described in the legislation. However, a certain portion of this legislation would have to be better defined so as not to interfere with law enforcement officers properly securing and controlling persons in their custody.”

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