As many of you know, I have made my living over the last 25 years representing police unions and police officers. I am proud of that work, and I have met some amazing and courageous men and women over the years. I am a police supporter.
But I am not blind to the problems that exist in policing these days. There are some folks carrying a badge who do not deserve that privilege, and even those of us in unions know that to be true. I have said it before and I’ll say it again because it is true: when we come upon an officer who does not fit the culture of service that is the first priority for policing, we find ways to move that person along into another career.
The key to reforming police departments does not start with legislators or judges. It starts with street-level supervisors, the sergeants and lieutenants who work with patrol officers on a regular daily basis. They set the tone. And that tone ultimately comes from the top management of a department. If the management is rotten, the policing will be too.
Fortunately in Connecticut, we have some of the best police leaders in America working for us. I have always believed that is why the disfunction that plagues other departments around the country has not infected most of our police departments in this state.
Still there are places in Connecticut where the culture is so bad that disfunction necessarily has followed. A case in point was made clear in a recent federal court case that resulted in an award of almost two million dollars in favor of a female police officer on the Central Connecticut State University police force.
According to the allegations in her complaint, the police department leadership was characterized by a culture of misogyny, intimidation, and retaliation. Women in the department, as well as women students on campus were frequently the targets of lewd, crude, and lurid behavior and remarks. In some cases the bad behavior crossed the line from verbal to physical.
And according to the complaint, the supervisors within the department not only knew about the culture, they were some of the main participants. It was a formula for disaster.
Several officers in the department engaged in ongoing sexual harassment of their fellow female officers including the plaintiff who ultimately held those officers and the department to account for their sexually demeaning and criminal behavior.
Before the case got to trial, the University settled with the complaining officer for 1.75 million dollars. That type of pre-trial settlement in a sexual harassment case is virtually unheard of in Connecticut.
Dysfunctional workplace cultures are not the sole domain of police departments though. They exist everywhere. But it is true that where you find a workplace that tolerates discrimination, retaliation, intimidation, or harassment, their abilities to perform their essential services and functions are corrupted.
Police departments cannot be painted in broad strokes with a broad brush. Each is culturally distinct. They have shared qualities and characteristics, but their approaches to their mission will vary based on leadership and membership. The good ones should serve as models for the failing ones. And the failing ones must be reformed or torn down. Only then will wounds from this summer start to heal, and faith in our institutions begin to return.