The envelope contained a photo of an unidentified male Caucasian bending over, exposing his bare buttocks and genitalia to the camera. The note stated: “Here’s the photo you took of me at your place last week. I hope you enjoy it, as much as I do.”
--Internal Affairs File No. 93-550
The whole thing would have blown over two years ago if the former commanding lieutenant of West Los Angeles detectives had just gotten rid of that photograph--the one a male subordinate left on a female detective’s desk.
Instead, after giving the culprit a warning, the former boss tossed the photo in his desk. Then he retired and the next thing you know, the new boss found the picture and opened an investigation.
This time, a formal complaint was filed--followed by a 15-day suspension. “The department has made it abundantly clear through training and notices that conduct such as that . . . will not be tolerated,” concluded the official report on the incident.
Behind the starched blue shirts and badges, the men and women of the Los Angeles Police Department are much like those they are sworn to protect and serve. They can drink too much, push too hard, make bad jokes and break the law. But in one important way, the police are different because it is their job to uphold the law.
Last year, for the first time, the Los Angeles Police Department began keeping a separate file on gender-related complaints. There were 43 of them, snapshots of behavior ranging from everyday insults to allegations of forced sex at the Hollywood station.
The cases, outlined in confidential files obtained by The Times, provide a rare, unvarnished glimpse inside the squad rooms and patrol cars of the LAPD--into a subculture where a bawdy, male-dominated history is colliding with a far less forgiving present.
A Risque Slide
The subject of the training was homicide investigations. As part of the training, (male detective) . . . displayed a slide presentation that contained a number of photographs of homicide victims. One of the slides . . . depicted a live female in the ocean surf with a wave breaking over her. The female was not wearing a top.
--Internal Affairs File No. 93-0118
No doubt about it, police stations are not your average place of business. A city’s horrors funnel through the doors every day. And cops sometimes respond with crude jokes or juvenile pranks. There is a lot of history in that, not all of it proud, but much of it hard to shake.
The law describes sexual harassment as behavior of a sexual nature that is unwelcome and has the purpose or effect of creating a hostile, intimidating work environment. Although 43 complaints in a department of 10,000 employees is not statistically large, many women officers and their advocates contend that the number of unreported incidents is far higher.
To hear Lt. Karen Kimball, the department’s women’s coordinator, tell it, “very, very few” of the cases logged last year “would rise to the level of true sex harassment.”
Rather, she said, they involve alleged words or actions that were “certainly inappropriate and we certainly want to nip them in the bud before they rise to harassment.”
The department has pledged to make the LAPD more hospitable to women--about 1,100 officers, or 15% of the force, are women. And it is doing so under the watchful eye of the City Council’s Personnel Committee, which on Tuesday will hold its second hearing on harassment in the department.
But some say there is only so much that can be done.
“Remember, this has always been a macho job,” said author Joseph Wambaugh, a former LAPD officer whose books have chronicled the department’s culture for the outside world. “It has been a way of life that has been absolutely riddled with machismo, and all kinds of locker room banter and gallows humor.”
Ultimately, Wambaugh said, harassment should be measured in “common sense” terms, not with sweeping mandates that brought a departmental warning to the detective who showed the slide of the topless woman.
“I’m just glad I’m not in the department today,” he said, “not if it has come to that.”
Against Their Will
Once inside the trailer, (the sergeant) locked the door. He attempted to repeatedly kiss her and she continuously pushed him away and turned her head away from him. (He) put his hand under her shirt and began to fondle her breasts. It was evident to her (he) was determined to have sexual intercourse with her. . . . Afterward, she stated that from now on, when she said, “No,” she meant “No.”
--Complainant’s allegation Internal Affairs File No. 93-1053
Some conduct in the LAPD’s files raise straightforward questions about acceptable behavior. Then there are complaints detailing allegations that, if true, could land someone in jail.
Earlier this month, The Times reported that in the past five years there have been at least eight cases of female LAPD employees alleging sexual assaults by co-workers. None has resulted in criminal prosecutions although three are being reviewed by the Internal Affairs Division, and could be forwarded to the district attorney’s office. Two other cases are the subject of pending lawsuits. In a third lawsuit, a commander was recently cleared of alleged rape.
Two cases under internal review involve a police officer in the Hollywood Division under investigation for allegedly raping two female counterparts while off duty. He is accused of inserting a 9-millimeter pistol into one woman during what began as consensual sex. In the other case, he is accused of raping a woman and shoving an ice cube into her vagina.
The third case under investigation involved sex at the Hollywood station--encounters that a woman officer calls rape but a male sergeant says were part of an extramarital affair.
Internal Affairs found the encounters--in the boiler room and in a command post trailer--inexcusable whether or not they were consensual. And even if “the whole truth . . . may never be known,” investigators said, the sergeant had to shoulder responsibility for the misconduct.
He awaits a disciplinary hearing.
When Words Fail
The statement regarding laying of hands is a common one used by religious leaders.
--Internal Affairs File No. 93-0762
Last year, a reserve chaplain found himself atoning for his words after telling a woman officer: “Lay hands on me and pray for me.”
She read a sexual meaning into his remark. Although he was cleared, he told the commanding officer he would choose his words more carefully in the future.
Over at Hollenbeck Division, two sergeants drew suspensions--one for five days, the other for two--after the first made an admittedly stupid remark and the second failed to report it.
During a late-night roll call, the first sergeant, in a room full of officers, thought he would give a pep talk. Before finishing, he looked at one female officer, a new one, and asked: “Are you going to go out there and show us that you have the ovaries to get this job done?”
Immediately, a number of officers called him on the remark. “1.81, 1.81, sexual harassment,” they shouted, citing the code number for a personnel complaint. But the sergeant already knew he had blown it, as he said in a letter to Chief Willie L. Williams.
“This was her first night in a one-person car. My intention was to ensure that everyone backed each other. At the same time, I wanted to inspire and give her encouragement. I failed in my objective,” he wrote.
“My remark was spontaneous and the minute it was said, I wanted to reach out and pull it back.”
The Thin Gray Line
“She stated that (the male officer) arrived at her residence, very intoxicated, and made unwanted advances toward her . “
--Internal Affairs File No. 93-0730
He dropped by her place in Sun Valley at 1:30 in the morning, after four or five beers at J.P.'s Bar & Grill. And it did not take long, she claimed, for her friend since childhood, a fellow officer no less, to cross over the line.
She called it harassment. He called it a misunderstanding. And because there were no other witnesses, the department could not decide who was telling the truth.
Often, it comes down to this. His word against hers. Or one group of officers saying this, another saying that. Just like on the streets, where a dozen witnesses can give you a dozen different explanations of what happened before the accident, or after the gunshots.
Last April, two female officers complained that a male detective they encountered on a courthouse elevator kept nudging them and pushed the back of his shoulder into one officer’s breast.
Initially, Internal Affairs classified it “not resolved” because the detective said he stumbled and two male partners on the elevator backed him up. But a deputy chief reviewed the case and gave the detective a 10-day suspension.
“To suggest (the female officers) both grossly misinterpreted and overreacted to an accidental stumble,” he said, “would be to indict their own judgment and integrity.”
Detective ------ is an individual whose background and culture clearly place him on a collision course with modern day thinking. He has repeatedly voiced his opinion on his preference not to work with, or under, female employees.
--Internal Affairs File No. 93-1204
Some folks would call them dinosaurs--cops who are stuck in the old school, who still think that they can get away with harassing women whether they are fellow officers or not. The detective who does not like working with women was named in a complaint by a female colleague while they both worked in the Harbor Division.
The way she told it, they were starting the day shift May 13 when he unpacked his belongings, pulled out a jar of Vaseline and told her: “See, I’m thinking about you.”
He denied the statement, and there were no witnesses. So the department dropped the case but decided to keep a close eye on the detective.
Sexual banter may be routine in the police fraternity, but if it makes women feel like sex objects rather than officers, it creates a hostile environment, said Judith Kurtz, managing attorney of Equal Rights Advocates, a public interest firm specializing in sex discrimination.
“Don’t look at what has been tolerated in the past. Look at it in terms of what a reasonable woman would find acceptable behavior--then you figure out if it’s discrimination or not.” Kurtz said. “In most any instance, I think if you ask how the officer would feel if that happened to his daughter or wife, I think they would feel it’s offensive.”
(Male detective) stated on numerous occasions that (female detective) has walked around the detective squad room with a banana in her mouth, sliding it in and out simulating oral sex. (Female detective) would smile as she committed the “banana act.”
--Complainant’s allegation Internal Affairs File
Most of the complaints are filed by women against men, but sometimes the reverse is true. And often, women allege that the charges are retaliation--pure and simple.
Before the female detective in the Harbor Division filed a complaint about the Vaseline comment, she also reported that a photo of herself on her desk had been crudely defaced.
But in November, months after she had filed the two complaints, records show that the detective was herself accused of harassment by a male colleague, who turned in a nine-page typewritten letter detailing her alleged sexual comments and antics.
The male detective, whose witnesses include a colleague who had been named in a complaint filed by the female detective, said he was so upset by her innuendoes that it affected his job and health--even driving his weight up above 300 pounds. The case is pending.
Another female officer, accused of misconduct, claims that charges against her were trumped up after she charged a male officer with sex harassment during an Honor Guard trip to Sacramento.
The male officer, she claimed, was vulgar, made sexual advances and used an “anatomically correct” dog balloon to make lewd suggestions. The officer countered that she was drunk and some witnesses agreed, claiming she bumped into walls and rode through a lobby on a luggage cart.
Investigators reported conflicting stories after interviewing everyone they could--including a restaurant waiter who confirmed that a male officer said she “needed to get laid.”
Eventually, Internal Affairs recommended she get a 10-day suspension and that he get two. But when the cases landed on Chief Williams’ desk, he concluded her punishment was too severe and that his was too light. His ruling: Each officer got a five-day suspension.
Some say Williams’ action shows how murky cases can get. But others see something more troubling. It is, they say, a cautionary tale about stepping forward.
Right now, the female officer, who is on a stress disability leave, is contesting her suspension. She also has sued the Police Department, alleging that what happened in Sacramento typified the harassment and discrimination she experienced during her decade with the department.
"(She is) not alone in this,” her attorney said when filing the case. “There happen to be a lot of women in the same position she’s in.”
Editor’s note: Because this story is based on confidential files, The Times is not publishing the names of those involved in the complaints.
Seeking to crack down on sexual harassment in its ranks, the Los Angeles Police Department last year created a new gender-related category for Internal Affairs complaints. The following is a breakdown of what was reported and what actions were taken.
* 26 inappropriate comments
* 5 assaults
* 5 inappropriate pictures, photos, video or actions
* 4 inappropriate touching incidents
* 3 instances of inappropriate touching and comments
(Thirty-nine complaints were against men. Four complaints were against women.)
The LAPD, citing the confidentiality of the records, refused to disclose the outcomes of the cases. The following is based on Internal Affairs recommendations in files obtained by The Times. *
* 13 suspensions ranging from one to 66 days
* 4 exonerations or unresolved cases
* 4 reprimands or admonishments
* 1 warning
* 2 case files include no Internal Affairs recommendation
* 9 cases in which the recommendation could not be determined from records
* 10 recommendations for Board of Rights hearings (Two concluded with suspensions for the accused officers. One resulted in a not guilty finding. Other outcomes could not be determined.)
What Is Harassment?
“Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, visual or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:
1. Submission to such conduct is either explicitly or implicitly made a term or condition of an individual’s employment;
2. Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or
3. Such conduct has the purpose or effect of interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.”
--From a city of Los Angeles executive directive
* Recommendations are not necessarily followed by the chief of police and may be appealed by the accused officer.