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Sex-assault inquiry raises concern

by The Associated Press | October 22, 2018 at 3:02 a.m.

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Oakland, Calif., Police Department asks officer applicants if they’ve ever been sexually assaulted, which appears to be a rare and potentially problematic question, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The San Francisco Chronicle queried police in the state’s 10 most populous cities and could not find another instance of screening for sexual assault victims.

Oakland police officials said a candidate would not be denied a position for being a sexual assault victim. Officials said they want the information so they can review police reports in which applicants may appear.

The question comes up when recruits sign and get notarized a form that allows the Police Department to

conduct a background check on them to determine suitability. The form authorizes, for example, the release of educational transcripts, credit history and local criminal history information, “including if I have been a victim of sexual assault.”

Oakland police officer Marco Marquez said the department’s background investigators are “interested in every police report that an applicant might appear in,” including whether the person was a suspect, witness or victim.

But questions about an applicant being a witness or suspect are not asked, the newspaper said.

The Oakland application practice is “inexcusable,” said retired Portland, Ore., Police Chief Penny Harrington, the first woman to lead a major city police force.

“There’s absolutely no reason to be doing that,” said Harrington, who founded the National Center for Women and Policing. “I can’t imagine why they would need to know that information, except as a way to wash out women.”

Professor Joan Williams, an expert on employment law and sex discrimination at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, called the disclosure requirement “clearly illegal.”

Deborah Rhode, a Stanford Law School professor who studies equal protection and sex discrimination, disagrees, saying it’s posed to men and women.

But she too finds the disclosure request puzzling.

“I don’t know if the assumption is that someone who’s been a victim can’t be objective,” she said.

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