By Chris Parker
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Sergeant Vince Ariaz liked what he saw in 15-year-old "Maggie." Eager to please, in awe of police work, and seeking a trustworthy authority figure in her life, the shy brunette was an ideal fit for the Brownwood, Texas, Police Department's Explorer program.
There are nearly 2,000 law-enforcement Explorer posts and upward of 32,000 14- to 21-year-olds participating in the Boy Scouts-affiliated program each year, so Maggie had entered a primary gateway into American law enforcement. The paunchy, gregarious 53-year-old sergeant who'd been running Brownwood's Explorer program since its inception took pains to make her feel special. Rapidly promoting her through the ranks, he promised to get her into the police academy when she was of age. Soon he was taking her on ride-alongs nearly every night.
One morning in June 2007, six months into Maggie's tenure, another Brownwood cop saw the girl—too young to have a driver's license—at the wheel of Sgt. Ariaz's squad car. Queasy, he contacted a Texas Ranger, John Nick Hanna, who was in the midst of a months-long investigation of Ariaz over allegations of sexual abuse.
Ariaz had been suspected of it for years. In 2004, according to court records, a 15-year-old Explorer told Brownwood Police Chief Virgil Cowin that Ariaz had forced himself on her one night when they were alone in the station house, kissing her, fondling her breasts, and fingering her vagina. Cowin also knew of text messages Ariaz had sent the girl bragging about the size of his penis and how he intended to use it on her.
"You're just a child," the girl recalls Cowin telling her. "You're just making it up."
Her complaint went nowhere.
Hanna's investigation, meanwhile, had been similarly stalled. Jolted to action by the new information, however, he soon learned that Ariaz took Maggie out several nights per week, often parking his car for hours at a time at known make-out spots. With a go-ahead from his superiors, Hanna set up a hidden camera. For five nights, he watched as the sergeant kissed and groped Maggie, but held off until he had his smoking gun. Finally, after watching Ariaz go down on the girl, he swooped in for the arrest.
The eyebrow-raising decision to use an unwitting 15-year-old girl as bait for a serial sexual abuser—over which a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, naming the Texas Rangers, the local prosecutor, and the Brown County Sheriff's Office as defendants, was filed earlier this year—is atypical. But police officers having sex with Explorers is not.
In recent decades, more than 100 police officers have had sex with Explorers they were entrusted with mentoring, the vast majority of them underage. In just the past year, two sheriff's deputies in San Bernardino, California, were arrested for having sex with underage girls; a New York City cop was charged with child sex abuse after sending racy text messages to a 15-year-old; an officer in Bremerton, Washington, was reprimanded for sleeping with an 18-year-old; and a former cop in Burlington, North Carolina, pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a minor after being accused of having sex with a 14-year-old he'd taken on ride-alongs.
The Explorer program is administered by Learning for Life, a Boy Scouts of America subsidiary formed in 1991. Its programs, which extend far beyond law enforcement, provide more than 110,000 young people each year the chance to see workplaces firsthand, in fields ranging from aviation to architecture to the law. The organization's mission, says Learning for Life Executive Director Diane Thornton (who for the purposes of this article responded only to questions submitted in writing) is to "enable young people to become responsible individuals by teaching positive character traits, career development, leadership, and life skills so they can make moral choices and achieve their full potential."
The exact number of exploited Explorers is not known. (For a list of known cases, see the interactive feature accompanying this article.) And Thornton won't say whether Learning for Life tracks sex-abuse cases against Explorers, nor would she comment on why the vast majority of those cases involve police officers. "We do not release that type of information," she wrote.
Learning for Life, Thornton says, has sought to reduce instances of Explorer sex abuse—which she characterizes as "very rare"—limiting one-on-one contact between mentors and Explorers, banning non-work relationships, and requiring those who work with Explorers to watch a 20-minute training video.
"The protection of all youth in Learning for Life programs is of paramount importance, and Learning for Life views any abuse of youth as unacceptable," says Thornton.
But a review of Explorer sex abuses dating back to the 1970s shows that the Boy Scouts and Learning for Life waited years to enact rules barring inappropriate contact between police and Explorers. And once these rules were in place, the Boy Scouts and Learning for Life have not enforced them, mostly leaving police departments to police themselves.
"Learning for Life should expect police chiefs to follow common-sense rules protecting Explorers," says police accountability expert Jeffrey Noble, a believer in the Explorer program's benefits. "If they become aware their rules aren't being followed, should they refuse to allow that department to have an Explorer program? Absolutely. Shame on them if they don't."
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As someone with a strong background in the Scouting program, I know child abuse is a extremely serious matter in the organization. Boy Scouts, and I am assuming Explorer posts subsequently, are required to adhere to the "Two Deep" leadership policy. Essentially, it is means of ensuring there is NEVER one on one contact between an adult leader and a youth participant. If this officer was having this girl participate in ride-alongs without a secondary supervisor, it is violation of basic Scouting regulations.
Also... cops should know not to bang kids. Have fun in prison.
Police work attracts a certain personality type. Especially as the police are militarized, the personality type becomes more extreme. As more and more police departments hire combat veterans with no training whatsoever, the characteristics of predatory violence with a sexual component become more and more engrained in the police.
It isn't that there's a "lack of accountability." It's encouraged behavior. As soldiers, with the presumption of civilian life and responsibility, morph into warriors, tasked only to kill and despoil; so the paramilitary police are responsible only to utilize violence on command. Any "excesses" are excused, due to "the pressures of the job." Predatory sexual violence against women and children is all in a day's work.
You can't find troopers who will assault civilians on command without question, who don't also assault the vulnerable at other times in other ways, as well. It's all part of the bargain the Powers That Be have made.
Bottom line; keep your kids away from the cops. Keep your wife away from the cops. Solve your own problems as much as you can, by yourself, among your neighbors. That's the best way to deal with street gangs, the mob, or if your town were occupied by a foreign army. Increasingly, there's no difference.
Seriously it is encouraged??!! First of all Im speaking on behalf of personal knowledge in at least one of these stories that was listed and let me tell you and it even stated that some of these so called "victims" were over the age of 18! Now I dont disagree the officers actions were still highly inappropriate in many ways and there definitely should be accountability and consequences for them but dont think for one minute that all these girls were innocent curious little officers in training only interested in "Police work". That was not the case in all these cases. One girl in particular only joined to get close to the officers! Just like girls who like military uniformed men, this young lady had a hard on for police officers in uniform and she was over 18 btw! So also with her she also knew who was married and didnt care! It didnt stop her from pressuring to ride along with them and try to use her sexuality to seduce them which she did! She found officers that were vulnerable and ended in victim to her pursuits. The timeline was months, she carefully prepared and patiently waited and slept with whomever would fall for it! It didnt matter who! She is an attention whore! So next time dont quickly assume just the way the news article is trying to make it sound.. But again like I said I can only speak of my intel knowledge of one case, the others who knew! But I guarantee the one case, the girl wasnt some innocent girl pressured to have sex with this big ol' bad cop only trying to victimize young innocent girls! Not in this case! I am not dismissing the officers actions though, they were wrong and yes there should be accountability and consequences and there was and still is everytime the news has to print something about it!
The local department, as with any Scouting unit, selects and approves the leadership. Total local control. If you can't trust your police department to select leaders with high morals, who can you trust? Penn State is criticized for not reporting sexual abuse incidents to the police. In this case, not only were they reported to the police, the criminal was a police officer. If local leadership fails, how is Learning for Life responsible, as they have no authority over the individuals. Only the police department has authority to act.