The bill that passed the Assembly, and that is pending in the State Senate, would rightly bring police officers under the sexual contact restriction and reinforce the common-sense principle that people whom the police have placed under arrest are legally incapable of consenting to sexual acts with officers, who hold enormous power over them.
Much of the country has yet to grasp that fundamental point. An analysis of state statutes by the BuzzFeed News reporter Albert Samaha found that laws in 35 states may be letting officers get away with sexual assault by claiming that the encounters are consensual.
Based on a review of a Buffalo News database, including the cases of more than 700 law enforcement officers from across the country accused of sexual misconduct, Mr. Samaha concluded that at least 158 officers had been charged with unlawful sexual conduct with people under their control since 2006 and that at least 26 had been acquitted or had charges dropped as a result of the consent defense.
Even officers who were convicted have gotten off with outrageously light sentences. In 2008, a Birmingham, Ala., officer convicted of sodomizing a woman in his custody was sentenced to only 18 months in prison. According to the database, an Arizona tribal officer who pleaded guilty in 2008 to forcing a woman to have sex with him after he arrested her for a traffic offense and lying to the F.B.I., was sentenced to only two years.
States clearly need to strengthen laws that are letting officers get off lightly — or even go free — for sexual assault. Only then will predators with badges begin to think twice about how they behave toward the citizens they are meant to protect.