Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Bureau adds new scrutiny for cops

Sexual-misconduct case spurs police to ask more questions at hiring
by: ,

Two weeks ago Portland police officer Jason Faulk surrendered his badge after admitting to an on-duty sexual encounter with a woman described as autistic and emotionally challenged. Now, having removed the 10-year veteran from its ranks, the Portland Police Bureau faces a far more challenging task. With Faulk just one of several local cops to be busted recently for sex-related misconduct, what can be done to prevent such things from happening in the future? Interviews and documents show that the answer to that question is more complex — and more nebulous — than it might seem. Experts say surprisingly little is known about how to weed out job applicants with sexually deviant tendencies. “It’s a bit of an uncharted area,” Phil Trompetter, a police psychologist in Modesto, Calif., told the Portland Tribune. That’s why the Portland Police Bureau plans to conduct a “psychological” autopsy of the recently concluded Faulk case — an idea so novel that Trompetter, who tracks such things, never has heard of it. “It sounds like a great idea,” he said. The autopsy will take a look at Faulk’s behavior, and use interviews with him to try and figure out what went wrong — from his hiring through to the recent misconduct case. In June 2007, when Faulk first responded to a call from the woman in question, records obtained from her attorney show that the cop was warned by a fellow officer that her residence was a “1234” building — police vernacular meaning it houses mentally challenged people. When a fellow officer later responded to another call from the same woman, he described her as “obviously mentally unbalanced.” Among other things, the woman believed herself to be a movie star stalked by paparazzi. A criminal grand jury that indicted Faulk did not find the woman to be so mentally unbalanced that she lacked the ability to give consent, thus sparing Faulk a rape or sex-abuse charge. Faulk, meanwhile, told detectives he merely thought the woman to be a little bit “quirky” but otherwise totally normal. “Everyone’s quirky,” he said. “I’m quirky.” He also described himself as suffering from depression and sexual addiction, and as a victim of being seduced by her. Asked what he was thinking when he first had sex with her, he responded, “I was thinking my life isn’t (expletive) up enough as it is, I may as well.” The police reports paint a picture of a cop suffering mental issues of his own — and who may have been ill-suited to ever becoming a cop. He told officers that upon going to work in Portland, he “immediately started feeling anxious, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” More questions asked As part of Faulk’s plea deal, he agreed to undergo counseling during his two years of probation, as well as to be debriefed by David Corey, a psychologist who conducts pre-employment psychological screening for the Portland Police Bureau, the Multnomah County sheriff’s office and other police agencies. Corey did not respond to interview requests, and had earlier expressed reluctance to be quoted in stories about the recent wave of police misconduct cases. Trompetter, who works with Corey in a group of police psychologists focused on pre-employment screening, said the Portland psychologist already has started asking questions of police job applicants as sort of a “fishing expedition” for warning signs. Trompetter said that he has followed suit, and that his line of questioning could include questions about behavior that is legal, or at least relatively commonplace among the general populace: Have you ever received or sent a sexually oriented e-mail? Have you ever had sex in public? Have you ever looked at pornography on the Internet? Depending on the answers, psychologists then can drill down and follow up. The big problem, Trompetter conceded, is that such questioning relies on the truthfulness of interviewees. Not only that, but the novelty of the approach could expose bureaus to lawsuits from people who are denied jobs. Already, the bureau currently faces a hiring crisis, one that is compounded by the fact thatonly about one of 12 applicants survives screening to become a cop, said the bureau’s personnel manager, Sean Murray. Still, Assistant Portland Police Chief Brian Martinek said the bureau is bent on improving its screening process to be more selective, including pressing the Oregon Legislature for a law that allows polygraphs to be used in pre-employment screening. A similar effort was blocked last year by an alliance of police unions and the ACLU, citing the devices’ unreliability. ‘This job changes people’ Martinek said the bureau even is considering whether to have people who already are Portland cops undergo such evaluations later in their career — especially if they are assigned to specialty units such as a homicide detective or the Special Emergency Reaction Team. “This job changes people in ways that are hard to predict,” he said. While tightening its psychological screening, the bureau may relax some of its other standards, such as youthful drug experimentation, to ensure it gets the best possible applicants. “I don’t care what someone did in high school,” Martinek said. Beth Creighton, the lawyer who represents the woman Faulk slept with, supports the push to do better screening, citing other recent examples besides Faulk. “There seems to be a real problem over there” at the bureau, she said. Police spokesman Sgt. Brian Schmautz, however, disagreed. “These are not systemic problems, these are individual problems,” he said. He noted that headlines seem to suggest similar trends with politicians, coaches, etc. “We seem to be a much more sexualized society,” he said, adding that the bureau hires its cops from society at large: “What hiring pool do you use? You use the public.” This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.