Former Lincoln Police officers share concerns about survey analyzing culture within LPD
LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - “Lincoln Police officers have experienced harassment, discrimination, and retaliation for years even decades,” Luke Bonkiewicz, former Lincoln Police Officer said.
10/11 NOW spoke with three former Lincoln police officers who said speaking out against the city was never the plan.
“This was never meant to turn into lawsuits or anything like that,” Former Sergeant Angela Sands said. “None of us wanted that, we wanted to make the department better.”
But they said after what they experienced while working for the department and what they believe is still ongoing, they felt there wasn’t another choice.
“I’m sitting here in front of you today because obviously, I’m representing something that has been a call to action for the Lincoln Police Department,” Erin Spilker, former public information officer for LPD said.
Bonkiewicz, Sands, and Spilker sat down with 10/11 after the city released the results of a survey done by 21st Century Policing aimed at analyzing LPD’s policies, procedures, and culture to ensure it is free of harassment and discrimination. Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird announced the survey after a former officer, Sarah Williams, received a settlement from the city for a lawsuit she filed alleging sexual harassment and discrimination. Three other officers have also filed similar lawsuits but litigation is ongoing.
The results of the survey showed 16 women, 47% of those who responded to this question, reported they too had encountered discrimination or harassment while working for LPD. Eighteen women, or 53%, reported they had not encountered discrimination or harassment.
During the press conference, neither the mayor nor Chief Teresa Ewins addressed that statistic specifically, though the representatives from 21st Century Policing noted that it will be a challenge for LPD to work through the polarization shown in that answer.
“I think that the challenge will be to accept that people bring different lived experiences to the table, and that the organization really needs to support a culture of listening to those with whom we sometimes disagree, and show respect for differences of opinion,” Kathleen O’Toole, with 21st Century Policing said.
Sands, Spilker, and Bonkiewicz said they felt the survey and the city glossed over this issue.
“Sixteen women were brave enough to speak up,” Spilker said. “Sixteen women were brave enough to answer that survey and say I was discriminated against, I was harassed. Sixteen brave women - and that number was minimized.”
Sands fears the number is higher.
“We had our friends that still work there reaching out to us saying we’re too scared to take it,” Sands said. “What if they can see the results and so that fear is still in them.”
City officials said the survey was sent out to LPD employees on a link independent from the city and employees were allowed to take it whenever, wherever they wanted.
“They were not monitored,’ Ewins said. “I mean, that’s a key part of this is to make sure that we get, you know honesty and no pressure, no stress on them.
But Bonkiewicz said that’s not the experience he had.
“I was told to report to a police captain’s office to take the survey,” Bonkiewicz said. “I took the survey in the police captain’s office while my survey answers were broadcast on the big screen TV of the conference room and the captain sat at his desk.”
Bonkiewicz said the captain who was there was only following orders but it makes him question the validity of the results.
“If I was pressured to provide a favorable response I wonder how many people felt that pressure from supervisors or from administrators,” Bonkiewicz said.
10/11 asked the department about this accusation that Bonkiewicz was required to take the survey supervised and about the former officers’ categorization that the city didn’t take the survey results regarding the 16 women facing assault seriously enough.
Ewins didn’t answer questions related to those topics. She said, at this time, the department will not comment on questions related to pending lawsuits.
Ewins did, however, answer the question related to the next steps of the 21st Century Policing survey.
“We have reviewed the report and are engaging our staff to create a guiding document with recommendations submitted by our staff and best practices. This document will be finalized by December 5th and placed on the department home page for the media and the public access,” Ewins said in the statement.
Spilker said she hopes the continued attention on the issues will finally bring progress after years of speaking up.
“This is not an easily solved problem, it is not,” Spilker said. “But if we do nothing about it, you have a runaway train on your hands and it’s never going to get better.”
Sands said the former officers now have the support of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which supports people who have faced sexual harassment or retaliation in the workforce.
“It’s nice to have someone come in and validate you so we’re going to help make this change,” Sands said. “The whole point of this was to bring about change and it’s turned into something bigger that can hopefully affect that change and make Lincoln safer.”
To see the full results of the 21st Century Policing survey click here: https://www.lincoln.ne.gov/files/sharedassets/public/police/workplaceassessment.pdf
To watch the full press conference on the survey click here: https://lnktv.lincoln.ne.gov/CablecastPublicSite/show/254?channel=1
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