Hiding in Plain Sight: Sticks and stones
"The term split-tail is degrading towards all women. I prefer snatch!"
----Anonymous comment left, February 2007
"If I was a bank robber . . . and I've got a shotgun and some 5-foot split-tail [female officer] comes running into the bank, I am not going to take hostages. . . . I am going to blow her little ass to kingdom come."
---Former Los Angeles Police Department detective, Mark Fuhrman, who taped this monologue himself for posterity, not guessing it would rear its ugly head years later during a criminal trial.
"For the male who sits back, crosses his arms, rolls his eyes, and suggest that women should make the coffee or sweep out the command van? Bring out the two-by-four. If that doesn't work, show him the door. For the cop who thinks it's funny to call women 'split-tails'? Forget the two-by-four."
---Retired Police Chief Norm Stamper, Breaking Ranks
"Eliminating prejudicial, racist, or sexist words from your vocabulary isn't just about being politically correct. It is about having a clear mind, free of obstructions., that allows you to make smart, maybe even life-saving, decisions. Ultimately it is about officer safety for you and your partners."
---Michael W. Quinn, former Minneapolis Police Department officer, in Walking with the Devil.
"If you don't do what they want, they will take a lie about you and make it true."
The second quote comes from a comment left by an unidentified individual using the name, not surprisingly, of a former porn actor (at least, according to Google) in response to a posting here about the racial and gender breakdown of the Riverside Police Department's officers in February of 2007. This specimen's contribution to discourse was meant to shock and offend, as a somewhat immature, adolescent expression of sexist humor. Pity, if this person's a grown adult.
What it provides here is an opportunity to discuss the prevalence of its use along with other sexist language in the professional workplace where women are present, most often in professions that are male-dominated including the military forces, law enforcement and other professions.
In one sense, "split tail" is used as part of the name of a species of carp, which is a fresh water fish. However, it became a derogatory term as a label for a woman's vagina. It's been used as a derogatory term for women in both the military forces and inside police agencies as well. Actually, it's used in workplaces in different professions where male employees greatly outnumber those who are female including a division at a General Motors plant, according to a law suit filed by a female employee working there.
It's just one of many slurs that are thrown at women to punish them for the "invasion" into an occupation and to try to keep them in their proper place, which is only second best to kicking them out of these professions altogether. The usage of these slurs against female employees either directly or indirectly over a period of time can constitute a "hostile working environment".
And that's exactly what's happened in many different law enforcement agencies from coast to coast, resulting in many law suits and probably even more grievances filed in response. Then there's the settlements and juries' verdicts, including those which hit the $1 million mark and beyond. You'd think that law enforcement agencies and the cities and counties which are financially responsible for them when things go wrong would at least rid them of sexual harassment for fiscal reasons alone. But if that's happening, it's at a glacial pace for many of them.
Reporting sexual harassment might be easier than in the past, the process may be more accessible and there may even be more processes available to choose from, but has it really changed things? Are the processes themselves more likely to be liabilities to those who use them? Meaning that, if you do use a complaint or grievance process to file a sexual harassment claim, could it be you who's out of a job or even a career in law enforcement?
Too often, the answer is yes to both questions.
After all, this was a profession that was essentially forced to accept women in its ranks. In many cases, while kicking and screaming. In fact, several law enforcement agencies were pressured to enter into federal consent decrees aimed at hiring more women. Quite a few of those agencies where the percentage of women is somewhat above the national average of around 12% got where they were because of these decrees, including those in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.
You can read about the impact of consent decrees on the representation of women in law enforcement agencies here.
One of those agencies, the Los Angeles Police Department which is under a federal consent decree of a different kind has struggled with sexual harassment in the workplace including that which constitutes a hostile working environment. Below is just one example of what's been reported inside that agency.
Los Angeles, California
As seen above, "split tail" was a favorite slur used by former Los Angeles Police Department Det. Mark Fuhrman, whose tapes of himself talking were used by defense attorneys in the O.J. Simpson trial. What's well known about Fuhrman is his fondness for racial slurs. What's not is that he once allegedly headed a sexist organization of male officers in his department who hated and resented female officers in their midst. Call it a "He-Man Women Haters' Club" for grown men with badges and guns. Fuhrman used quite a few sexist slurs during his career as it turned out.
(excerpt, New York Daily News)
But the bulk of the tapes concern Fuhrman's disdain for female cops and involvement in MAW, which he said had 145 members in five of the city's 18 police divisions during its heyday in the mid-1980s.
He said MAW members shunned or refused to work with female officers and called them names like "Critter" and "Hench Monkey" all in violation of departmental anti-discrimination rules.
And he badmouthed his former boss, Capt. Peggy York, the wife of Simpson criminal trial Judge Lance Ito, saying she used her sexuality to become the force's highest-ranking female officer.
On a 1988 tape, Fuhrman described tribunals as a cross between criminal trials and Ku Klux Klan rallies, where members would drink beer and conduct a mock trial.
"Standing around in a dark parking lot of a baseball diamond at 3:30 in the morning. And I put my hood on and I am calling a tribunal and we get in a circle with Tony standing in the middle. . . . 'Okay, the charges are as follows: . . . You were seen having coffee with one of the enemy,' " Fuhrman said.
Male officers found guilty of fraternizing with females were "sentenced" to punishments like a week of "silent treatment" or "the back," where other male officers would turn their backs on the offender, he said.
Furhman said he even placed his own partner on trial after overhearing the man having a chat with a female officer.
"I said: 'You're on trial next Saturday night.' . . . So after two days he asks: 'How can I keep from being put on trial?' I say: 'Publicly humiliate a female officer.' He never did it. I had to put him on trial," Fuhrman said.
On the 1988 tape, he also griped that the department's internal investigation was cramping MAW's activities.
"We haven't had a tribunal in five months. Mostly because [former L.A. Police Chief] Darryl Gates personally knows my name now. Because of MAW."
"MAW" referred to "Men Against Women" meaning men against women being in law enforcement, which was the unofficial mission statement of this "club". On its face just reading about it makes one think that it doesn't get much more stupid and juvenile than this and these men are supposed to be emotionally and socially mature and professional law enforcement officers entrusted to protect and serve communities? But it's about promoting the LAPD and law enforcement in general as bastions for White men only.
Its membership isn't or wasn't huge in a department that probably employed over 7,000 officers at that time and it was fanned out across about one-third of the department's field stations. But you still had over 100 male officers who so hated, resented and most likely feared having women in the workplace that they launched active campaigns against them and the men who didn't participate in the shunning. It's likely that other organizations exist inside other law enforcement agencies though they are probably more clandestine. After all, if Fuhrman hadn't been involved in investigating the murders of O.J. Simposon's ex-wife, Nichole and Ron Goldman, MAW may have never come to light to embarrass the LAPD.
But Los Angeles isn't the only place these things were and are happening.
New York City, New York
Across the country and years later, in April 2007 during a supposedly more enlightened era, three female New York City Police Department officers complained after a male sergeant used racist and sexist slurs during roll call.
The sergeant called the women, "hos" and another male officer then called them "nappy headed hos"
Another sergeant used similar slurs in a separate incident reported by another female officer.
(excerpt, Fox News)
In a separate incident involving the NYPD, a Queens narcotics detective said a sergeant used similar language while talking to her on April 12.
Detective Aretha Williams said the supervisor — now on leave — told her not to give him "lip," or he'd call her "a nappy-headed ho."
The comment "cut me to the core," Williams, a 15-year veteran of the police force, said Sunday. "I find it disrespectful, racist, sexist. It can't be tolerated."
Too often it is tolerated inside law enforcement agencies until a female officer sues to make it go away and hold the agency to a professional, non-racist, non-sexist, non-homophobic, non-women hating working environment. It might be tolerated until an outside agency like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decides to do its own investigation which is already allegedly happening in one of Riverside's city departments that's not public safety related.
Riverside's police department itself is no stranger to this type of behavior even during its roll call sessions, according to complaints filed by former officer, Rene Rodriguez and Officer Roger Sutton. According to depositions given by former Commander Richard Dana among others in connection with Sutton's civil law suit, allegations involving these comments were sustained against a former sergeant, now retired.
As a result of all this inappropriate roll call chatter, one of the required reforms of the city's stipulated judgment with the State Attorney General's office was to put video cameras in the roll call room and a live feed to several division offices including that of the chief. Of course allegations were made in both complaints as well as others that racist, sexist comments were said outside the roll call sessions and even outside the roll call room as well. It's hard to rope in a culture which is steeped in racism and sexism to the point that it would spill over in such a setting. It's something that can only be changed when it becomes a priority to do so, and even then it's very difficult as many law enforcement agencies have discovered when pushed to do it.
New York City was hit with another sexual harassment law suit about 10 years earlier by a female police officer who said that she was harassed and it was covered up by her superiors.
But it wasn't like she hadn't been warned by a relative who worked there when she joined up in 1986, she said.
(excerpt, New York Times)
"He told me it was a horrible job for women," she recalled. "Every day at work you will be talked about, sized up and dissected like a frog in a lab."
Stacey G. Maher spoke of a world where if female officers wanted to move up, they had to perform sexual favors and anyone who supported her, would face retaliation by other male officers. Her harassment began not long after she started working at the NYPD.
Her first difficult encounter, she said, came in January 1989, while she was still on probation, at the 84th Precinct in downtown Brooklyn. "My first day on the job, I was walking across the muster room," she recalled, "when a sergeant pointed to me and said out loud, 'That one, the blonde, is mine.' "
In her lawsuit, Officer Maher identified the sergeant as Joseph Monahan, who was her squad commander at the 84th Precinct. In the suit, Officer Maher asserted that after fighting off Sergeant Monahan's attempts to grope her, she was given "a punishment post" of foot patrol by herself on the Brooklyn Bridge in the dead of winter.
It just got worse the more time she spent on the job. Especially when she said she tried to expose a police sergeant who was corrupt. After that, she was labeled a "rat" and believes that information about her was leaked to her new assignment by the Internal Affairs Division investigator.
What's Maher's biggest regret? It's that she didn't take her allegations of sexual harassment to the federal agencies but instead trusted the department's own processes and those who staff them to do the right thing.
"This started out as a simple complaint against a lieutenant with free hands and a sergeant who might be doing something improper with a convicted felon," she said in an interview." I was trying to do the right things by cops, and I'm living proof that the police can't police themselves."
Sometimes, it can be quite a few female employees in a law enforcement agency filing complaints at once or even a joint law suit. Perhaps they also shared Maher's sentiment about inhouse investigations.
Several months ago, 13 current and former female police officers and civilian employees in the Hayward Police Department in California filed a sexual discrimination and harassment law suit, according to the Oakland Tribune.
Their joint 85-page lawsuit details a long and sometimes lewd history of unrest at the department, involving sexist, anti-gay and hostile treatment of female employees.
Many of the women also allege that the department's internal affairs unit, or Office of Ethical Standards, provided little relief from abuse and instead was used as a tool to retaliate against them.
"After years of trying to get the department's attention in these matters, they just -- basically -- couldn't take it anymore," said Walnut Creek lawyer Stan Casper, who is representing the 13 women and asking for an untold amount of damages from the city.
He said the suit is "the result of a long and entrenched history of the department demeaning female officers and their value to the department."
That's often the phrase that you hear when these law suits are filed. I just couldn't take it anymore. This time it was a law enforcement agency up in central California.
One of the issues raised in the article on Hayward, is a theme that's raised in many an account of how sexual discrimination and harassment is handled inside law enforcement agencies especially after the complaint or grievance process is utilized. What is the role of the department's internal affairs division, for example? Is it to investigate misconduct by officers including sexual harassment? Is it to be viewed as a means for an employee facing sexual harassment to seek a form of redress through a fair, just and objective process? And if these are the things that it's set up to do, does it in fact do them?
What if the reality is far different and is actually intended to be different? What if instead those who file complaints alleging racial and/or sexual discrimination or harassment wind up being the employees who are actually investigated through internal affairs divisions and other mechanisms? What if protecting the culture matters most of all? What if those who do so are so steeped inside it that they don't realize that's exactly what they are doing?
After all, according to former officer, Kelsey Metzler's law suit filed in 2006, she alleged that a representative of the Internal Affairs Division was present when she was fired the first day she appeared to work at the Riverside Police Department. That was after a stint in the academy where she allegedly finished just outside of the top 20 graduates, but had filed a complaint of sexual harassment against one of her male classmates.
Some of the plaintiffs in the Hayward law suit said they were lesbians and had investigations launched against them because of this. Homophobia plays a strong role in gender harassment and retaliation in law enforcement agencies for different reasons. One, is that officers who are lesbians may face disparate treatment due to their sexual orientation. The second, is that because women are daring to enter a profession like law enforcement which was long considered the sole territory of men, they might be labeled lesbians even when they don't identify as such because they are viewed as breaking gender roles.
One example of this labeling which is as sexist as it is homophobic took place in Riverside's own police department where former sergeant, Christine Keers, filed her law suit in 1996 alleging that she worked in a department entrenched in sexism. Her declaration included comments where female officers were labeled as being "butch" and if two female officers worked together, their squad car was called the "lesbian car".
Another issue that the Hayward case addresses is the role of gossip in undermining women in law enforcement agencies. The "rumor mill" discussed below is a common reference in law suits filed by female law enforcement officers. It's called taking a lie and making it true, as mentioned in the quote earlier in this posting.
Of the numerous male officers of various ranks blamed for contributing to the discrimination, some represent parts of familial networks or close networks within the department. One of the officers named in the lawsuit is the son of an assistant district attorney. Another is a son of a former Hayward mayor. Two are twin brothers. One is a son of a Hayward police officer. One was the best man for the wedding of the officer he was tasked to investigate.
Casper said many of the women found themselves falsely accused, through the police department "rumor mill," of having sexual relations with numerous men in the department. Occasionally, the rumors were used as a basis for discipline or investigation, he said.
"Rumors of sexual activity or imagined alliances, conspiracies, bribes and tiffs are not discouraged by the management," the suit states. "The social hierarchy within the department is maintained through the rumor mill."
Keers' law suit refers to a similar "rumor mill" where false stories were circulated about the sex lives of female employees in the police department. When Keers mentioned that she learned information about knots from her son who served in the Navy, one officer said she was "doing the fleet."
Metzler stated in her law suit that statements made about her having sexual relationships with instructors at the Ben Clark Training Academy while she was a cadet there might have been told to future prospective employers, without it being clear whether those allegations were truth or attempts to defame her reputation as a form of retaliation for filing a complaint against sexual harassment. One would certainly think if it was true that these allegations had been made against Metzler and were enough of a concern to be forwarded to any prospective employers, that there would have been a major investigation conducted of the involved instructors at the academy as well and that if Metzler were to be penalized for any such behavior that the involved instructors would be as well.
In both lawsuits against Hayward and Riverside, when women were promoted, it was insinuated or said that they had sex or performed sexual favors for their supervisors. If they wanted to get promoted, the same things were said. In both cases, female plaintiffs reported essentially being fed the "boys will be boys" line and the men's behavior against them was blamed on the women's looks. In other words, they were just words and what could words do?
Similar allegations of nearly identical behavioral problems has occurred elsewhere.
In 1999, the United States Department of Justice sued the city of Belen, New Mexico alleging sexual harassment and a hostile working environment inside its police department. The terms of the allegations were stated in this complaint.
That eventually led to a consent decree which included a list of reforms such as policy changes, Equal Employment Opportunity training and other measures.
That's one tool that's been used addressing sexual harassment in both governmental agencies and private companies, usually through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This process begins with what's called filing a charge which if you're in Riverside for example, you would do here.
But the difficulty of getting the EEOC to respond especially while under a Republican administration makes it not a feasible option for many complainants who instead turn to the courts for a legal remedy. Cleaning up an agency's sexism in all its forms should be a priority but many of them either aren't concerned or are oblivious to it unless forced by legal action to confront it. But how many female employees have they lost to just get to that point? And do these losses matter?
USA TODAY has this article on the progression of female police officers and how sexual harassment has been addressed in different agencies in this country.
First a custodian, now a police officer. At 39, a long-time custodian of the police department is now working in the same department as a police officer.
What's it like to watch votes get recounted?. An interesting essay given that Riverside, the city is thinking of bidding the election process for its local elections out.
Fifteen across the board has a different meaning in the face of Riverside Renaissance and the upcoming fiscal year. What does it mean for your city services?