Independent firm reviewing Lincoln Police Department warns about ‘polarization’
From left, Lincoln Police Chief Teresa Ewins, Mayor Leirion Gaylor-Baird and human relations director Barb McIntyre unveil the 21st Century Policing Solutions assessment of LPD at a news conference on Sept. 29, 2022. (Jazari Kual/ Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — Mayor Leirion Gaylor-Baird, Police Chief Teresa Ewins and Lincoln-Lancaster County Human Resources Director Barb McIntyre unveiled the 21st Century Policing Solutions assessment at a news conference Thursday.
Gaylor-Baird ordered the independent review of the police department in February 2021 while searching for a new police chief after sworn staff brought allegations involving harassment and toxicity. Allegations by officers resulted in multiple lawsuits filed against the city and the resignation of former Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister. One of the lawsuits ended with the city settling at $65,000, and another was dismissed last month by a judge.
Ewins said the department would implement new practices in light of the assessment findings. Including a revamped process for promoting and forming specialized units in the police force.
The police department will hire an outside organization to handle promotional testing to eliminate any conflicts of favoritism, Ewins said. She said the department has worked with the city council to increase officer salaries.
Ewins expressed optimism about achieving additional goals and recommendations made by the independent firm by the first quarter of 2023.
According to 21st Century Policing Solutions, which conducted the review, 70% of Lincoln Police Department employees participated in the survey, with an average completion time of 10-15 minutes.
Support groups for employees were conducted, in person and virtually, by 21st Century Policing. Individuals who did not feel comfortable participating in the survey or support groups had the chance to meet with the independent firm individually about their issues or concerns.
The 58-page report details issues found and recommendations for the department’s improvement, including 47% (16) of female officers in the department disclosing they had seen or experienced harassment in the workplace.
Kathleen O’Toole, a former police chief in Seattle and a partner at 21st Century Policing, highlighted the challenges the Lincoln department will face moving forward with workplace harassment complaints and concerns toward women, including “polarization,” since the other 18 female officers in the department said they did not experience or witness a toxic workplace culture toward women.
Participants wrote about other issues in the survey, including difficulties maintaining a work-life balance, increasing workloads and unfair promotional practices.
“This report represents that, as a city and organization, we welcome an assessment,” Chief Ewins said. “We strive for perfection and at the same time understand perfection is a constant process and not simply a destination. Continuous improvement is crucial to modern law enforcement.”
McIntyre said the human resources department would continue working with the police department on building a positive work environment and recruiting.
“We have provided a confidential avenue for people’s voices to be heard through the implementation of a new equal opportunity compliant policy and process. Having people feel safe at work is a high priority, and these situations are taken seriously,” McIntyre said. “Employees are able to raise sensitive topics in a safe environment which is necessary to ensure leadership receives honest and sometimes difficult feedback. Navigating these tricky situations in a fair, equitable, and respectful way is a sign of a workplace with a safe and positive environment.”
A copy of the report can be found here.
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