Lincoln police making changes to reduce discrimination, harassment in response to survey, allegations
LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - After three years of allegations of sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination being targeted at the Lincoln Police Department, city officials are announcing more than 30 changes they’ve started implementing.
“I think the number one thing I heard from the very beginning is there needs to be changed,” Chief Teresa Ewins said.
The changes address recruitment, promotion, internal investigations, training, discrimination policies, and communication. Both Leirion Gaylor Baird and Ewins said the goal is to better prevent harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. Allegations of which have been included in lawsuits and interviews with former officers. 16 women also reported they’d experienced harassment and discrimination while working at LPD in the 21st Century Policing survey, that’s 47% of the women who answered that question.
Ewins said she takes those cases “extremely seriously” but said the department can’t do anything with those anonymous reports unless the victims come forward with more information.
“I’m here to say that if they want to come forward, they need to choose to come forward, then please do,” Ewins said. “We will investigate right away.”
Ewins said the department created an anonymous portal where employees can make complaints, they can go to the department leaders, file an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint, and report to the state or federal governments.
Before this announcement, four former officers who filed EEO complaints, have been fired by the department. When asked about concerns over retaliation she said the department has made positive changes so officers feel more comfortable reporting.
“We support people to come forward and I think we put systems in place to help people do that,” Ewins said.
Six of the recommendations on the worksheet involve EEO and complaint-reporting policies and processes. Including clarifying directions for supervisors regarding EEO complaints, requiring complaint classification decisions to be approved by a dedicated EEO Sergeant and/or Ewins, providing examples of forms of sexual harassment, updating the harassment definition, and providing other avenues of reporting violations that don’t fall under EEO complaints. None of these changes have been implemented yet.
Gaylor Baird, Ewins, and City Attorney Yohance Christie fielded questions about this reporting and investigating process and how the Lincoln Police Department can investigate its own complaints.
“I think that law enforcement is uniquely situated to investigate, to conduct investigations, generally and I think it’s important to remember that they are the main investigating agency for the city, the system that we have in place, I’m confident in that system that we have in place, and there was always checks and balances that will ensure that there is no conflict with LPD,” Christie said.
Ewins added that she works with the city’s human resources director to go over all complaints and how they should be handled, including whether or not they should go to outside counsel. Ewins also said updated policies regarding those are forthcoming.
“I think the city has gone in a great direction,” Ewins said. “It’s been something that’s been in the works for some time and it was it was seen as a priority and so we feel very confident that we’re in a really good place right now.”
Reporters asked Thursday if the city’s leaders thought the recommendations, which are largely policy tweaks, go far enough.
Gaylor Baird said they do.
“The recommendations are interconnected because they’re about making sure that this is a well run, well structured, a department that has great accountability measures in place,” Gaylor Baird said. “And that makes sure that people know where they can go if they have concerns.”
Ewins said the department adding the rank of lieutenant early next year will also play a part in addressing concerns.
“One of those things is supervision and we’re listening, and we’re making that happen, that tests will be given this month and I hope to get them out there,” Ewins said. “The lieutenants are not just about making sure that there’s no discrimination or harassment. They’re also about making sure we’re a well-functioning department overall, we have, we have victims out there that need closure. It’s about them supporting the sergeants and the officers in the field, and making sure that that we get the job done.”
Ewins said she also trusts the supervisors within the Lincoln Police Department to do the right thing, despite multiple officers, sergeants, and captains being named in lawsuits.
“I look forward to really having our time when we go to court and we can we can talk about what we did, what we didn’t do, you know, those are things that we need to, to really get to at some point,” Ewins said. “The public can decide the evidence will show what it will show and they can determine at that point.”
Additional changes that have been implemented at this point:
- The Lincoln Police department now works with a human resources employee to develop recruitment and retention plans
- The department has purchased software to organize testing and communicate with job applicants
- A third-party company has been hired to administer testing to Sergeants and Lieutenants during the promotional process
- The chief has held “open door” days to receive feedback from employees on the specialized position promotional process and HR will be involved moving forward
- The department has clarified avenues of communication regarding decisions for new facilities regarding locker rooms and bathrooms
To stay up to date with the recommendations and progress toward their completion, click this link: https://www.lincoln.ne.gov/files/sharedassets/public/police/workplacereccomendations.pdf
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