To serve and protect is the fundamental social contract between law enforcement and the citizenry. But the citizens of Lakeland have been ill served by a police department embroiled in a sex abuse scandal involving on-duty and off-duty trysts. There also have been tawdry allegations involving officers humiliating women stopped for traffic violations. Lakeland police Chief Lisa Womack has been scrambling to hold accountable officers who abused their positions, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is contemplating another investigation of the department. A new independent investigation of the department is the best approach to restoring public confidence.
It's possible the public still would not know about the officers' intolerable conduct had Polk County State Attorney Jerry Hill not released a scathing 56-page report in June. That report detailed the Lakeland department's Animal House behavior. Both Womack and Lakeland City Manager Doug Thomas learned about the sexual abuse allegations at least four months before contacting the FDLE.
Hill's report detailed on- and off-duty sexual activity among at least 10 officers that took place in patrol cars, public offices, a church building and even a cemetery. He suggested that some of the sex acts might not have been consensual.
Two veteran officers were fired and two more resigned this week after being implicated in the scandal. A civilian department employee, the woman at the center of the sexual activity with officers, has filed state and federal sexual harassment claims against the Lakeland department. Womack has been chief for two years but has said she learned of the sexual activity within the ranks just four months ago. That suggests the chief was either too isolated or intentionally looking the other way.
The FDLE should conduct another investigation to ensure that the Lakeland Police Department is cleaned up, those responsible for the sex scandal are rooted out, and the department starts fresh. Even if Womack has the best of intentions, only an outside review can restore public trust in a department that is under such a cloud.