Testimony of Chief Penny Harrington

Director of the National Center on Women & Policing


California Advisory Committee to the United States Commission
on Civil Rights, February 20, 1998

Police Practices and Police-Community Relations in Sonoma County

HON. FERNANDO HERNANDEZ, PH.D., CHAIRPERSON: Penny Harrington, Director of the National Center for Women in Policing. Would you please state your name for the record and your title?

MS. HARRINGTON: Thank you, Dr. Hernandez. My name is Penny Harrington. I'm the Director of the National Center for Women in Policing, which is a division of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

I'm also the former Chief of Police of Portland, Oregon. I was the first woman chief of police in the United States of a major city. I served 23 years in Portland as a police officer. And after I left Portland, I worked for the California State Bar for seven years in the Attorney Ethics Division as the Assistant Director of Investigations in an oversight capacity on the legal profession. And now I run the National Center for Women in Policing, which has as its goal to educate the public about the benefits of women in policing, to increase the numbers of women in policing at all levels, and to hopefully provide assistance to police agencies on better ways to respond to crimes of violence in the community.

So I was asked to speak not only about citizens' oversight but to talk to you on a couple of these other areas that I have some expertise in. What it appears to me from what I've seen reading the newspapers and some articles and listening today to most of the testimony is that we have a real lack of communication and trust between the police and some segments of the community. Not all of the community, not all the police. But it's also not unusual.

And I think what we're seeing is a community that is going through tremendous growing pains, changing, and trying to decide how to deal with the changing culture. One of the things that I think is very important for any police agency today is to look at utilizing more women in policing. I have testified before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission on two other occasions and presented testimony and evidence on research that shows that women do a very good job of policing.

They have a tendency to de-escalate violence; they have very good communication skills. And they tend to take crimes against women, such as domestic violence and sexual assault, much more seriously to see them through to get a better result for what happens.

The status nationally of women in policing is that police departments, municipal police agencies, the average is about 10 percent women nationwide. on sheriffs' offices, the average is about 14 percent nationwide. On state police agencies, it's only about 5 percent. And the numbers are not growing very quickly.

The only place that we see large numbers of women in policing are cities like Detroit, Chicago, New York. Cities that have been under consent decrees. So most major cities in the United States, Los Angeles and some of those, are up around 16 or 18 percent. Cities like Detroit, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, that have been under consent decrees are at 30 percent. And you know what? They're still providing good police service. They haven't fallen apart from having a larger percentage of women.

Relationships with the community are great. All of the studies that have been done on women in policing show that women do the job just as well as men, they make as many arrests, they're just as effective. They just do policing in a different style. And sometimes that style is not seen by some of the men in policing as real police work.

It's not seen as a value to be able to go into a very tense situation and get it all calmed down. Where nobody gets hit, nobody gets shot, nobody maybe even goes to jail. That is seen as soft, not real police work. But in my opinion, that's what police work is all about, is trying to the solve problems, de-escalate violence and hopefully resolve things so that you don't have to keep going back to the same place over and over and over again.

I think that more women bring a balance to policing, and I think that that's one of the things that is needed in these communities here. I heard some people earlier talking about recruiting and saying, "Well, gee; we've sent out fliers to all of these places and we hold job fairs for teens." That's not good enough. Sending out fliers to an organization is not going to get you very much in the way of recruiting. Some of those organizations will put it in their newsletter and you might get some help.

But if you're really serious about increasing the numbers of women and minorities in communities, you have to go out and work in the communities, find those women and minorities, explain to them why you want them to join you. You have to do a sales job on that. You can't just send out a bunch of fliers and think that people are going to beat down your door. Especially if you have a reputation for being brutal, for being hostile to women, for being not a welcome place for minorities to come. So you have to really put some effort and some money into recruiting.

Job fairs for teens are great, but what are you going to with them between the time they're 18 and they're 21? You have to have a program that you can either hire them or keep them involved with your agency so that when they're old enough to be hired as police officers, they'll come on. It doesn't do a lot of good to go out to a high school, get a bunch of kids all excited about policing and walk away and not talk to them for three years. You're not going to have them.

Sexual harassment policy, I heard about it earlier and I read it. In my personal opinion, the policy is illegal. The reason I believe that that's true is that it mandates that the woman must report to the agency if she's being sexually harassed. Way at the very end of the policy, in the last paragraph or something, it says of course the woman -- the person being harassed can go to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing or EEOC and they don't have to report it to the police department. But the first page and the first page and a half are all about how you must report.

What I have seen happen in other agencies -- and I'm not saying it's happening in this one because I don't know. But what I have seen happen in other agencies with a policy that reads that way is that if a woman doesn't report and then later on something happens and someone finds out or she makes some outside complaint to EEOC, she's then brought up on charges for failing to obey the policy.

And that has been used in police departments across these United States, I get calls every day in my office about women who are facing charges because they didn't report sexual harassment under a similar policy. The truth is a woman doesn't have to report it to her agency if she doesn't want to. She can go straight outside. And I know all of you know that, but I'm saying that for the other people in the room.

On domestic violence. Domestic violence is a problem in this nation -- in the world, as a matter of fact -- that all of us are struggling with. It used to be that we didn't even look at it as a crime. It was considered to be a family problem and it's been only been recently with the passage of the Violence Against Women Act and some of the other things that have happened on a national level that have forced states and local agencies to take domestic violence seriously and treat it as a crime.

Some agencies -- In fact, in San Diego, Sgt. Ann O'Dell is known as the woman in the United States who developed the best investigative system for domestic violence and it's taught in police agencies across the nation. Where you investigate it as a crime and as if the woman weren't going to testify in court. Because frequently she won't or can't. But you can go ahead without her testimony anyway.

Police departments across the nation are going to that kind of training. I don't know if these police departments are using those resources that are available or not. But if they're not, they should look at that.

The real problem in domestic violence today that police officers themselves participate in domestic violence at an extremely high rate. There have been national studies done that show that the level of domestic violence in police families is 40 percent. 40 percent If that's true, and as I say it's three se studies that have showed that -- and these were all, way, self-reporting studies, where the police office themselves reported on whether or not they had used in their family in the last six to twelve months. 40 percent reported that they had.

If that's true, what are the chances of a woman this community who calls the police for domestic violence getting a batterer answering her call? Pretty high. And yet, we hear earlier testimony that says there was one, I think, police officer that was fired because he was convicted of domestic violence.

That's not unusual around the country because police officers don't get convicted of domestic violence because they don't get arrested for domestic violence because their buddies cover up for them.

And so you have to have policies in the department that say, "If you get a call on domestic violence at a police officer's house you, will report it. You will call a commander or a supervisor to the scene. It will be documented and set forward just as any other domestic violence call is handled." And that officers -- when you receive complaints on domestic violence, will be treated as any other person in the community. These complaints don't go to Internal Affairs and get buried there.

Los Angeles did a big audit earlier last year on 270-some cases of police domestic violence and found that hardly any of them were referred to the District Attorney's Office for prosecution. I read the synopsis. They had each case -- a synopsis of each case. Some of those the woman had been raped, brutally beaten, a pregnant woman thrown down on a table and beaten severely. And that was not handled as a crime, it was handled by Internal Affairs. In fact, the study found that 29 percent of the men on the department who committed domestic violence were promoted after they committed domestic violence.

It's a serious problem in police agencies and it plays out in the way we deal with domestic violence in the larger community, in the attitude that police officers have towards domestic violence.

On excessive force. The main thing that police officers need to be taught on excessive force besides how to defend themselves -- because none of us want our police officers getting injured. our police officers are important to us to keep order in our communities, to protect us from people who want to do us harm. We spend a lot of money getting them trained and putting them out on the street. They're individuals, they're human beings and we care about them.

Besides teaching them how to use different weapons of force, we must teach them how to de-escalate violence, how to mediate some of these situations. Because they may have a legal right to kill and take a life, but is it always necessary is the real question.

The District Attorney says he hasn't taken any action on police officers, brought any charges against police officers. Probably because they were within their legal right to take a life. But the real question that this community has to look at was: Were they morally right in what they did? Considering the circumstances, were there other things they could have done first, things they could have attempted before they had to get that far?

On citizens' review. What are we afraid of? What is it that we're trying to hide that we want to stonewall the citizenry and not let them look at our reports, look at what we do? Why should we be afraid? If we're doing the right things, the community will support us.

I heard earlier someone talk about one advisory board that the sheriffs and the Chiefs' Association wanted to set up where every community would have members that would come forward and be on it. I hope that that's not followed through on because that's going to just separate and just fractionalize everything.

Each community needs its own citizen group to look at what the police are doing. And if you're part of a big countywide group that's dealing with a whole bunch of agencies, I'm afraid individual issues in individual communities will get diluted by that.

The Grand Jury. The reason it doesn't work as a citizens' oversight group is that it's secret. The citizens can't go in and hear what's going on. Frequently, you just get the results and you don't get the reasoning and it just fosters more problems.

And so somehow we have to have a way where there's an outside review of death or serious injury that the police have caused or have participated in. we need a review -- an outside place, a review of police family violence. Because where does a family of a police officer go to report that that police officer is brutal? Where do they go? To Internal Affairs where nothing happens? Do they go to the District Attorney who probably is a friend of the police officer involved? It's a huge problem.

We also need someplace for women who -- and anybody who feels that they're being discriminated against or harassed where they can report rather than to the very organization that is involved in the discrimination or harassment.

So there are all kinds of roles that a citizen oversight group can play. And on citizen panels we have to make certain, also, how are they appointed? Do the police appoint them? That's one of the things that they tried in Los Angeles and caused a huge uproar because the police were appointing people that they felt were their friends and that would say what they wanted them to say instead of appointing some of the real critics of the police departments so that they could get all of those issues out on the table.

So how they are appointed and how representative they are is very important. And these panels should be able to ensure that complete investigations are being done on whatever the issue is, that it also -- They also should have some review over what the District Attorney is doing. Because it's much, much too easy for the police to say, "oh, gosh; we want to do that but the DA wouldn't prosecute." So you have to look at tying that arm of the law enforcement system into it.

And there also has to be, as a part of all of this, to make sure that there are adequate services provided to the police and to the citizens whenever you have death or serious injuries involved. I believe there should be a mandatory policy that if an officer is involved in a deadly force situation, they are immediately put on administrative leave, sent to Counseling, because frequently they don't want to seek it themselves. It's not the macho thing to do. There's a peer pressure within the department that if you go for counseling, you're seen as weak. And so I think it's up to the agency to mandate that they go for counseling.

And I also think it's up to the police department and the community to look at the services to families of people who are killed by the police. Not only by the police t in any kind of situation. Portland has put in a wonderful response team for gang violence where if a child s killed in a gang drive-by shooting or something like at, they have a response team of volunteers, ministers, police, members of the community that respond to the scene hat help make funeral arrangements, that go to the school, deal with the children who are involved in knowing that child. And it's a community wide response to these types of serious incidents.

And last of all. We just have to have public accountability. You cannot have police agencies today that don't have public accountability and oversight. And we have to always keep in mind this is who we serve. We're not here to serve the police, we're here to serve the community.

Thank you.


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