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Major US police departments plagued by sexual abuse and retaliation between officers

About 1 in 7 police officers in the United States is a woman, according to federal data, and the Department of Justice is trying to figure out why more women aren’t attracted to law enforcement.

Officials tapped Jennifer Rineer, an organizational psychologist, to lead the study, which is still ongoing. Through interviews with female officers in 29 states, Rineer found that sexual harassment was a major barrier to attracting more women to careers in policing.

“Leaders at all levels need to say, ‘This is unacceptable,'” said Rineer, who works at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute.

Police departments reviewed by NBC News have policies that prohibit sexual harassment and require supervisors to report allegations of abuse. But female officers say the rules are often not followed or enforced.

Some of the women who attempted to lodge complaints with internal investigators said their allegations were never documented or verified. Others said that after filing internal reports, the information spread to other agents. Some said that when they spoke about sexual misconduct to their superiors, they were warned to keep quiet.

Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union, defended how departments handle sexual harassment complaints, saying they are often cases “there said, she said”.

“You don’t ruin someone’s career without evidence to justify ruining that person’s career,” he said.

Even the LAPD’s Internal Affairs Division, tasked with investigating officer misconduct citywide, has had its own issues with supervisors ignoring complaints of sexual harassment from within, according to a lawsuit filed by a former officer, Linda Allstot.

Allstot had been with the unit for seven years when, she says, a supervisor, Lt. Wayne Lightfoot, began complimenting her body and inviting her on trips to places like Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Former LAPD officer Linda Allstot sued the city for sexual harassment and sex discrimination and was awarded $1.8 million.Tamara Reynolds for NBC News

Allstot’s boyfriend was on the force, but she refused to reveal his identity when asked by Lightfoot.

Furious, Lightfoot used her power as a lieutenant to put Allstot under surveillance, she said in court documents and in an interview.

“It’s something I’ve never seen happen,” Allstot said. “It was all a nightmare.”

Her boyfriend was eventually outed, she said, and Lightfoot’s advances continued. Over the next few months, Allstot was convicted of offenses she says never happened, such as leaving her gun in her car seat.

She told a female sous-chef what was going on, but no complaints were filed internally. Instead, Allstot said, she was placed under surveillance again.

“I remember looking out the window and seeing a surveillance van, and my daughter looked out the window and she said, ‘Why are they following you? Aren’t you from the police? Said Allstot, bursting into tears. “It was the hardest thing to explain to a kid, and it stuck with me forever.”

Allstot sued the city and Lightfoot in 2016. A month before his trial, Lightfoot retired.

The city of Los Angeles paid Allstot $1.8 million. A few months later, another female officer sued the city alleging sexual harassment by Lightfoot. His case was settled for $75,000.

Lightfoot did not respond to requests for comment. In court documents, he denied the allegations.

“No objective process”

In recent years, a growing number of mayors have hired women to lead police departments in major cities, including New York; Sacramento, California; and Louisville, Kentucky.

The NYPD says its share of female supervisors has risen to 12%, which is higher than the national average of 9%.

But the careers of some of the small group of women who managed to climb the ranks of the 55,000-person department and reach a three-star rank – a position held by fewer than 16 people – ultimately ended in lawsuits and resentment.

Female officers only entered the department’s leadership layer in 2003, when Joanne Jaffe was made a three-star chief to lead its public housing officers. She was the only one for over a decade. In 2018, five women held the prestigious rank.

Over the next two years, three of the five quit their jobs and sued the department alleging widespread sex discrimination.

Jaffé was one of them. Just like Lori Pollock.

Pollock started with the department at the height of the city’s crack epidemic in the 1980s. As a rookie, she turned to the toughest assignments, working as an undercover officer and rising through the ranks as one of the few women to help run narcotics and internal affairs, and then oversee hundreds of detectives in Manhattan.

Lori Pollock was one of the first women to earn a three-star NYPD chef rank. She sued the city and settled for $367,000.
Lori Pollock was one of the first women to earn a three-star NYPD chef rank. She sued the city and settled for $367,000.Natalie Keysar for NBC News

“I loved being a police officer, every step, every rank. I loved it,” Pollock said.

Regardless of her position, she says, she has always noticed a particular trend. “No matter how qualified I was, I wasn’t allowed in until the women’s spot opened up,” Pollock said.

In 2018, Pollock became a three-star chef and was appointed to lead the office responsible for reducing crime rates. A year later, with a new police commissioner, Dermot Shea, at the helm, Pollock asks to take up the job he just left as chief of detectives. No woman has ever played the role.

“I had the experience and the credentials,” Pollock said. “Instead of being Chief of Detectives, I was demoted.”

She was transferred to an office that focuses on working with community organizations, where she had to report to a freshly hired bureaucrat who had never been an officer. Worse, she says, the department gave her a team of just four people to oversee (in her previous role, she oversaw 300).

Pollock thinks she was ignored because she is not a member of the department’s “boys club”.

“You’re just going to wave your hand and destroy my career,” Pollock said. “There is no objective process.”

Pollock settled in May for $367,000. Another former three-star NYPD chief received a payout of $330,000. Jaffe’s lawsuit, which also alleges she was forced to retire because she is white and over 58, is still in dispute.

Shea, who is now an NBC News law enforcement analyst, declined to comment. In court documents, he denied the allegations.

Pollock, now retired and living in New York, said after he filed his complaint, the vast majority of his colleagues stopped talking to him. Even high-ranking NYPD women put her down.

“You didn’t think it could happen until it happened to you,” she said.


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