2018-05-03 / Front Page

‘Police pledge’ proposed

Abigail Worthing Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – A local man who has called himself an advocate for those who have sexually abused/assaulted is proposing that the Biddeford Police Department enact a pledge vowing to never use their power to sexually abuse minors.

The pledge was proposed twice publically, once at a Feb. 20 city council meeting, and again at an April 9 public forum regarding the Biddeford Police Department, hosted by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

The forum was hosted to give the public an opportunity to speak about the police department as part of its accreditation process. The process is ongoing and the commission will meet in July to review and make its final decision on granting accreditation.

The pledge is designed to be sworn and signed following the official Oath of Honor as part of an officer’s swearing in to the department. The pledge, as proposed by Biddeford resident Dana Ward, begins by swearing that the officer will “faithfully fulfill my duty as a police officer and to protect the children of this city.” It then goes on to pledge they will not have sexual contact with children and affirming that is illegal to do so. The pledge continues with the hypothetical officer promising to watch over the children of Biddeford and to report if they hear anything amiss.

Ward devised the pledge in a way that he believes will help prevent sexual predators from joining the police force in Biddeford.

“If Biddeford were to enact such a pledge, someone who might be a sexual predator might think twice before joining in Biddeford,” Ward said.

Ward also believes enacting the pledge would allow the city to acknowledge the past and make a statement that the department takes the issue seriously.

The Biddeford Police Department, along with Police Chief Roger Beaupre and two former police officers are being sued by four men who allege abuse by the former officers.

Beaupre and Deputy Chief JoAnne Fisk did not return multiple requests for comment.

City Manager James Bennett said imposing such a pledge would make one law more important than others.

“It’s redundant. Law enforcement swears to uphold all the laws,” Bennett said. “They must uphold them all equally.”

Ward said in an interview that he hopes to bring such a pledge to other law enforcement agencies, and hopes to make this a statewide initiative.

“I have the highest respect for the police department. But a few bad apples will spoil the barrel,” Ward said. “We’re starting in Biddeford because of the past allegations. It doesn’t cost anything. We can further the discussion and go beyond Biddeford.”

During the Feb. 20 meeting when the pledge was first proposed, Mayor Alan Casavant said there had been “independent agencies” that had investigated the abuse claims and chose not to move forward with a case, which is why these complaints are still in litigation. However, when Ward went to the city to request copies of the investigation, Bennett told Ward that the mayor had been mistaken, and the only investigation had been through the attorney general’s office.

Casavant did not return a request for comment.

When asked about the possibility of such a pledge being brought to his own department, Old Orchard Beach Chief of Police Dana Kelley said he doesn’t know why anyone would think it’s necessary. “That’s like vowing to not domestically abuse someone. We all took an oath to uphold the laws, and that includes obeying them as well. If I had someone on my force that was doing that, I would deal like it like I would any other criminal.”

Kelley also questioned why only law enforcement was being singled out for the pledge. When posed to Ward, he said the pledge is only meant to be the first step in the fight against abuse of power.

“I recognize that this can happen in all positions of power. This is about any position that will gain the trust of an individual and abuse it, be it clergy, within the school system, there was even recently a case with a fight fighter. It’s about anyone in contact with kids in a trusted position.”

During an interview with Ward, the subject was raised about the exclusivity of only naming child sexual abuse in the pledge, as other types of sexual misconduct can come from an abuse of power, citing specifically a case in which two Los Angeles police officers detained multiple women and sexually assaulted them. Ward said that he would be open to broadening the terms of the pledge to be more inclusive.

Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at news@inthecourier.com.

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