Hands-On Experience

Dozens of teenage Explorers have been sexually abused by police officers. Critics say the Boy Scouts, who oversee the program, should share the blame.

Hands-On Experience

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.

With 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, 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 Sergeant 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.

Brownwood, Texas, Sergeant Vince Ariaz allegedly forced himself on one underage Explorer and performed oral sex on another.
Brownwood Police Department
Brownwood, Texas, Sergeant Vince Ariaz allegedly forced himself on one underage Explorer and performed oral sex on another.
University of Nebraska professor Samuel Walker was the first to publicize the cops-having-sex-with-Explorers phenomenon in a paper he co-authored in 2003.
Courtesy of Samuel Walker
University of Nebraska professor Samuel Walker was the first to publicize the cops-having-sex-with-Explorers phenomenon in a paper he co-authored in 2003.

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, pled 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 firsthand workplaces 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 nonwork 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 commonsense 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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11 comments
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Chester
Chester

This article is really hot!

hdmi
hdmi

Guess this was just too much for 'The Blue Wall of Silence" to handle... Well, anymore...

Some professions just draw certain types. Authoritarian professions like police officer attract everything from do-gooders (the majority and barely tolerable) to BTK types to these guys.

But notice how if you ever go to court over so much as a ticket, and imply that the officer is anything but angelically perfect they will look at you like you've commited a blasphemy?

Pete Townshend said it best: Its an eminence front... Its a put on...

sean
sean

The US Park Police in Washington DC has had a problem with this for several years.

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vengtee
vengtee

Dude, most 15 year old girls are quite sexually active and know exactly what they want!www.Total-Privacy dot US

Lan
Lan

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Lan
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I am a 27 years old doctor,mature and beautiful. and now i am seeking a good man who can give me real love, so i got a sername Andromeda2002 on  Agedate.СòM, a nice and free place for younger women and older men,or older women and younger men, to interact with each other.Maybe you wanna check out or tell your friends.

Lan
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DeathBreath
DeathBreath

At the end of a lengthy career as a mental health professional in the Texas prison system, I can safely say that one thing, "nothing surprises me anymore." I have seen it all & then some.

Here is a word of the wise most people don't want to hear. Most psychopaths possess one major element to assist them in their crimes, they can charm you so very well. I believe the judge who passed sentence on Bundy even commented on this.

If a seasoned judge can be swayed, why in the hell do you think you won't be fooled? Many cops think they know the minds of offenders, but they don't, really. Many officers are trained to deal with the detection of criminal activity and the suppression of such with various arrests. Then, they get carted off to jail. Cops don't spend time talking to offenders for years and years. Probation workers, parolee officers, & those who work with this group know what I am talking about.

But, to sit in a prison office & listen to hours upon hours of offenders bragging about their crimes, manipulating others, & preying upon the good nature of the public, you get a completely different perspective.

I've listened to pastors, former prison guards, turn keys (see Ruiz lawsuit), youth workers, Boy Scout Leaders, and police officers talk about themselves and their crimes, particularly those involving underage sex.

Do I believe in rehabilitation? Well, not really. In some cases, when a person was actually "habilitated", had a job, was dependable, and then got busted for a crime, one might argue for rehabilitation.

The worst of the sex offenders I have encountered are generally high verbal, cunning, and quite charming in their action. Churches are sometimes easy targets for criminals. Anyone can ask for redemption after a life of crime. Some Christians are all too forgiving for their own good. Even with this knowledge, it does not deter their tendency to trust others.

But, when some steamy pile of shit molests a child and is a member of the help community, I immediately think of an inverted cross on which to crucify that motherfucker! Cops are no different. Piss on you.

I know this is a crude message, but I hope I've thumped your trusting fucking heads. Be careful with your children. If a priest wipes his chin after hearing confession from your child, you might need to rethink your trust in others.

A rather jaded view in Texas.

Jkubica2001
Jkubica2001

So, how many of these cops are serving time?

 
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