San Francisco Police Department - To Protect and
February 7, 2003 - San Francisco
Chronicle Op-Ed piece
By David Clohessy
A physician's first rule is "Do no harm."
That, we believe, should be a police officer's first rule as well.
Yet last week, about 100 officers from the San Francisco
Police Department stood in court behind Monsignor John Heaney,
charged with eight felony counts of child sexual abuse. The officers'
insensitive action has harmed many molestation victims and may
have hurt the department's ability to pursue abusers in the future.
As men and women who were sexually victimized by
abusive Catholic priests, we were hurt and angered by what these
officers did. We've heard from other victims of sex crimes who
feel just as upset and betrayed.
But the impact on those already victimized is secondary.
Even more significant is the impact on those who have yet to report
their victimization. Some of them may be frightened or discouraged,
and may be intimidated into keeping silent.
Police exist to prevent crime and catch criminals.
They can only do this if crime victims feel safe cooperating with
police. That won't happen if crime victims see officers rallying
behind accused child molesters.
Furthermore, the department's integrity and independence
are threatened by what these officers did. Their insensitivity
may create doubt and disillusionment in the minds of other citizens,
not just crime victims.
What happened last week is over, the damage done.
Needed now is decisive, public action by police commissioners
-- other than the directive that police officers who show up in
court may do so only while off duty and out of uniform.
More meaningful steps include:
Mandatory apology: Require these officers to apologize
publicly for their inappropriate action;
Abuse training: Send them to a training session
run by a professional experienced in abuse issues;
Ban on 'support' court appearances: Forbid any department
staff from appearing in court to support defendants in the future;
Reassignment: Remove any of these officers who serve
on the SFPD sex crimes unit; and
Discipline: Formally reprimand the 100 officers
who appeared at Heaney's court hearing last month.
It is imperative that the commissioners take immediate
steps to reassure hurting men, women and children that the SFPD
investigates child molestation thoroughly and impartially, and
that it will not allow any future public displays of support for
Heaney or any other accused molester.
We don't doubt that Heaney has provided dedicated
service to the police. Most priests who molest do outstanding
pastoral work. Some psychologists offer a simple explanation:
Abusers feel deeply guilty for the pain they inflict on innocent
kids, and attempt to "compensate" for their wrongdoing
by becoming "super priests," working longer and harder
than their colleagues. Other psychologists offer a more devious
explanation: By ingratiating themselves with influential people,
abusers win deference and trust, which then gives them even more
opportunities to abuse, and more "cover" and protection
when they get caught.
But regardless of Heaney's motives and record of
service, the fact is that he is charged with a heinous crime.
Therefore, public servants (especially those charged with upholding
the law) ought not to publicly show support for him and thereby
intimidate other victims into silence. We in the Survivors Network
of those Abused by Priests believe in Christian charity and compassion.
We believe that everyone, including molesters, deserve
sympathy and understanding. But even more, we believe that children
deserve to be safe, and crime victims deserve to feel safe. The
natural human kindness we feel toward an adult we personally know
must not cloud our obligation to protect vulnerable children we
Across the country, police departments are becoming
increasingly creative and assertive in catching child molesters.
They are becoming more and more sensitive to the needs and feelings
of those devastated by abusers. Last week, however, dozens of
San Francisco police did just the reverse. They may have aided
and abetted a sexual predator. They certainly rubbed salt in the
already deep wounds of many of us. And they made crime victims
more reluctant to come forward, get the help they need and protect
others at risk.
David Clohessy, who was molested as a youngster
by a priest in the Diocese of Jefferson City, Mo., is national
director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
He lives with his wife and two children in St. Louis.