The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 29, 2012

Troopers as sex tourists

Daily Item

---- — Revelations that three high-ranking state police officers had repeatedly traveled to southeast Asia to visit prostitutes would be alarming if the disappointing pattern of conduct had prompted an immediate and appropriate response by other members of the state police.

But the revelations were greeted by the equivalent of a yawn.

The former head of the state police said that as far as he knows, the troopers' behavior was legal in Thailand so there was no cause for disciplinary action. Former governor Ed Rendell said he had heard rumors of the prostitution trips "through the grapevine."

An Associated Press review of the internal state police records shows the supervisors evaded significant punishment, and a Right-to-Know Law request found no evidence they were discharged or demoted, the state police told the press service. The FBI investigated the troopers' sex tourism trips but federal prosecutors closed their investigation without filing any charges. The only reason the whole rigmarole came to light at all was because another trooper had filed a lawsuit claiming he was treated to a different level of discipline than white troopers and used the handling of the sex tourism case as an example of the type of inequities in the state police ranks. The trooper who blew the whistle on his sex tourist colleagues had been accused of running up an inappropriate amount of overtime while he was guarding the governor.

All of which casts the state police in a bad light, which is a shame, considering the proud history of America's oldest state police. There is context to consider that raises serious questions about the culture within the ranks of the state police. Two off-duty troopers were working as bodyguards for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the night of Roethilsberger's 2010 drunken encounter in a bathroom that led to accusations of sexual assault. In 2011, a local state trooper was arrested on charges that he had exposed himself on a webcam.

And now this -- globetrotting sex tourists who retire to collect state pensions without penalty. The state police are often the front line in the fight to protect women and children from sexual abuse. The pattern of misconduct and uneven enforcement of standards of professional conduct undermine the credibility of the agency. In a time of crisis, Pennsylvanians ought to be able to expect that the officers who respond to investigate crimes are less creepy than the perpetrators they are pursuing.