By Mark Hallum
City and state elected officials announced the passage of legislation last Friday that will amend the penal code, making it illegal for police officers to engage in sexual activity with those in their custody.
State Assemblyman Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside) introduced the bill in November in support of Councilman Mark Treyger (D-Brooklyn), who drafted the legislation after a September 2017 incident in which two detectives in Brooklyn, who have since resigned, were alleged to have had sex with a teenage girl in their custody who they claimed consented.
Not only has it passed at the city level, but both the Assembly and Senate came through for the bill, which now awaits Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature.
“The power dynamic between someone in custody and the officers themselves is such that the individual in custody is incapable of consenting to sexual activity,” Braunstein said. “State law already prohibits sexual contact between Correction officers and parole officers and those in their custody. This common-sense legislation ensures that individuals in police custody are also protected from coercive sexual behavior committed by officers exploiting their authority.”
While Treyger’s bill sought to change the penal code to make sexual conduct between a peace officer and a person in their custody a misdemeanor, the highest offense designation allowed to be passed at the city level, Braunstein’s bill would make the offense punishable as a Class E felony.
“There can be no sexual consent when someone is in police custody,” Treyger said. “This horrific rape outraged our nation, and from day one, I have made it clear I would do whatever it took to advocate for common-sense consent laws to make sure that this could never happen again. I am proud that our leaders at the state level have recognized the need to finally close this antiquated loophole and ensure that our laws on sexual consent align with basic common sense and human decency.”
The bill was picked up by state Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island), according to a spokesman for Braunstein, and saw support from leaders at both the city and state levels, including Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx).
“This legislation helps ensure that New York’s laws regarding consent protect all individuals, including individuals held in police custody, from sexual abuse,” Heastie said. “It is simply wrong that someone exercising custodial government authority, such as a police officer, would violate the trust that should exist between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
Public Advocate Letitia James got behind the bill in November.
“There have been a wave of high-profile, powerful men accused of sexually abusing and harassing vulnerable women and men — and officers who sexually harass and abuse vulnerable individuals in their custody are no different,” James said. “While the vast majority of officers are hardworking and deeply principled, we must have laws in place to hold those few unscrupulous officers accountable. The bills introduced by Assemblyman Braunstein and Council member Treyger to ensure that sexual activity between officers and those in their custody is prohibited are common-sense measures to ensure that no individual is above the law.”
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall