Impartial investigators have determined that current Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (LASD) efforts to deal with gender discrimination and harassment problems are insufficient. Both sides in a major class action lawsuit agreed to the investigation. A report detailing the department's failures will be released to the public for the first time at a press conference tomorrow morning. Women's groups and other civil rights groups will call upon the LASD and County to undertake major structural reforms, including creation of an independent entity to handle complaints of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.
The Bouman v. Baca class action lawsuit instigated an intensive examination of the LASD, and the court appointed an expert to conduct a thorough review of the LASD's practices and policies. Attorneys for the county and the plaintiffs have jointly agreed to recommend the expert's findings to the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors.
The report reveals a pattern of cultural practices that supports gender bias, from a "code of silence," to ineffective training about sexual harassment and gender discrimination, weak investigation of reported incidents, and insufficient discipline. It also reveals that the LASD has failed to remedy the problem for years, despite a longstanding court order in Bouman which requires it to do so'and despite having made nearly 200 specific commitments to change as recently as 1995. According to the report, "There is no evidence...of effective attempts to complete them (the recommendations) all or to evaluate their success or failure." (p. 11)
The report lists numerous serious deficiencies: "Among the most serious deficiencies noted in detail below are: a strong Department culture that is resistant to change and the notion of 'valuing diversity;' significant denial even among top-ranked officials the Department has a serious problem related to workplace equity; a tradition of mistakenly equating 'loyalty to the Department' as 'silence,' even in the face of discrimination and unfairness, as well as a tradition of punishing in illegal and potentially dangerous ways those who complain; and substantial cynicism among rank and file about the ability and intentions of the 'brass' to 'walk the walk' as regards workplace equality."
Chief among the recommendations of the report are the creation of an independent civilian Equity Oversight Commission, which would oversee a unit that would investigate and report on complaints of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. (p. 35)
"Women on the force continue to face discrimination and harassment'and the sheriff's department still hasn't fully come to grips with that fact. Women of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department have been telling us this for years'and they keep telling us about discrimination, because the changes have not yet arrived. This report tells us why, and shows us where we have to go next," said Penny Harrington of the National Center for Women & Policing. "We urge the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department: listen to the department's own employees. Pay attention to the expert evaluators who have once again confirmed women's experiences. And work with women's rights and civil rights groups to develop an oversight system which will ensure that women in the LASD are treated fairly and are valued for the contribution they make to law enforcement every single day. We can help you do that."
Civil rights groups, including the California Women's Law Center, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the Japanese American Citizens' League, the ACLU of Southern California, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, recently called upon the county to implement very similar reforms as the result of another lawsuit (Moriguchi v. County of Los Angeles). In a March 2, 2000 letter to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, these groups urged the county to set up an independent office outside of the Sheriff's Department, which would be empowered to review complaints of officer misconduct. See "Sheriff's Bias Review Panel Urged,"LA Times, 3/3/00. Civil rights groups made the request because a Japanese-American officer, Brian Moriguchi, and his girlfriend experienced illegal intimidation and harassment when he complained about racism in the department.
"Two hundred promises have been broken in the last five years," said ACLU Staff Attorney Dan Tokaji. "Does anyone still think the LASD can bring about the necessary changes without outside help? A culture of hostility to diversity still endures throughout the agency, and individuals who try to combat it sometimes face dangerous and illegal retaliation. An independent oversight structure is absolutely vital if we are to put an end to the 'code of silence' that has allowed discrimination to persist in the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. The time has come for the county to take action."