IRVINE — City officials launched an investigation Wednesday into allegations that on-duty police officers routinely had sex with women in the back seats of patrol cars and formed a club to induct those officers who "got away with it."
City Manager Paul O. Brady Jr. ordered the investigation on Tuesday after the allegations were leveled by a lawyer for four former and current Police Department employees who sued the city in February for sexual harassment and discrimination over the treatment of women on the force.
The women claim that some officers boasted openly about their on-duty sexual exploits and formed a "Code Four" club in the department in which membership and pins were awarded to an officer once he had sex with a woman in his patrol car.
"If you got away with it, you could become a member," plaintiff Pamela Fuehrer said at a press conference held at her attorney's office.
But the "Code Four" allegations have not been included in any of the legal papers filed by the women as part of their lawsuit. And at the press conference, Fuehrer and another plaintiff, Abbe Taylor, both of whom are on medical leave as officers from the Irvine Police Department, refused to discuss many of the details behind the latest allegations against the department.
Code Four is a police term meaning that an officer is all right.
City officials said they were surprised to learn of the allegations and vowed to investigate but they were confounded as to why the women had not included the allegations in the lawsuit.
Fuehrer and Taylor have each worked at the department since 1984, but both said they had never aired their allegations before because they did not think it would do any good.
While the allegations raise the specter of criminal activity by police officers, the women's attorney, Steven R. Pingel, said he saw no need to raise the issue among a myriad of detailed sexual harassment allegations leveled by the plaintiffs in their lawsuit against the city.
"I don't put in all of my bullets at the beginning of the ballgame," Pingel said.
Police administrators were unavailable for comment, but city officials said they were shocked.
"This comes as a surprise to me and to the Police Department. It's new," Brady said. "The city has no record of any complaints about this."
Mayor Michael Ward said he views the allegations seriously.
"I want (city officials) to search out if there's any truth to this matter whatsoever and if so, take appropriate action. Anyone involved in this should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law," Ward said.
But David Larsen, an attorney for the city, was skeptical of the allegations.
"I find it a little peculiar that these issues were raised this late in the game . . . if it was really something that bothered them."