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Friday, November 28, 2008

[Article Link] "Police culture breeds harassment"

Police culture breeds harassment
Policing is about power - and sometimes that means power over women

The Hamilton Spectator
Krista Warnke
November 28, 2008
Nov 28, 2008
[Excerpt] ...There appears to be something about police culture, in Hamilton and elsewhere, that fosters patterns of demeaning behaviours toward women. U.S. statistics -- which may not be applicable in Canada generally or Hamilton specifically -- show that domestic abuse by American police officers is about 10 times higher than in the rest of the population... [Full article here]

1 comment:

  1. Police culture breeds harassment
    Policing is about power - and sometimes that means power over women
    The Hamilton Spectator
    Krista Warnke
    November 28, 2008
    Nov 28, 2008

    How does police culture contribute to the sexual harassment of women?

    Several stories involving Hamilton police officers and complaints of sexual harassment have made it to the pages of this newspaper over the years.

    Most recently, Kevin Dhinsa, a veteran police officer, was accused in 2006 of sexually harassing 12 female colleagues, but the allegations were never resolved because of a missed filing deadline. He has not been found guilty of any wrongdoing and is entitled to return to his job.

    Before him, there was Craig Galassi, who pleaded guilty two years ago to assaulting his live-in girlfriend. A 20-year veteran of Hamilton Police Service, he was fired in 2001 after being convicted of waving his gun at another officer and being found guilty of Police Act charges of discreditable conduct for, among other things, leaving a dead cat on the hood of another officer's vehicle and showing a female officer his pierced scrotum.

    He subsequently faced additional criminal charges arising from allegations by his former live-in girlfriend. Those charges were stayed in 2004 because the process took too long (eerily reminiscent of the Dhinsa case); the Crown appealed, and in 2006 Galassi pleaded guilty to the one charge. Charges of sexual assault, pointing a firearm, unlawful use of a firearm, assault causing bodily harm, assault with a weapon and breach of probation were dropped.

    There was also Charles Bamlett, a former Hamilton police sergeant who retired to avoid facing 26 Police Act charges of sexual harassment and drinking on the job -- only to land a new job in 2000 with the Canadian Forces as a sexual harassment investigator.

    These are but three cases. Given that most allegations of sexual harassment go unreported, I cannot help but wonder how many others there might be.

    How many female police officers have heard comments about "that time of the month," have been judged by the "sexiness" of their appearance or heard praise for their work muted by "even though you are a woman." How many have been given the "soft" assignments or been challenged on their physical strength? How many have faced initiations of condoms in their locker or pornographic images hidden in a desk drawer? How many have been told to "toughen up" and that they must "learn to take a joke"?

    There appears to be something about police culture, in Hamilton and elsewhere, that fosters patterns of demeaning behaviours toward women. U.S. statistics -- which may not be applicable in Canada generally or Hamilton specifically -- show that domestic abuse by American police officers is about 10 times higher than in the rest of the population. The numbers involving police are so dramatic that educational materials have been developed to bring awareness to this specific form of woman abuse. The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, in Austin, Texas, has created the Police Perpetrated Domestic Violence power and control wheel to show some of the tactics used specifically by police officers. (When CBC's former Disclosure program reported that in 2002, it also reported it found Hamilton Police Service had investigated 31 cases of domestic abuse among its 717 officers in the previous three years. Five of those resulted in criminal charges.)

    Sexual harassment, like other acts of violence against women, is an act of domination, humiliation and control that is used to maintain power.

    Power can be characterized in three ways: power from within, power with others and power over.

    Power from within is the ability to influence and take action based on intention, confidence, conviction, clarity of vision, assertiveness or charisma. Power with others is the ability to influence and take action based on uniting with others; it's the power that comes from community, solidarity, co-operation. Power over is often how we traditionally think about power -- the ability to get someone to do something against their will; using rewards, punishments and manipulation to force someone to do something they do not choose.

    Policing institutions are, in fact, systems of paramilitary power over. They are socially sanctioned to exercise reasonable control over persons and property in order to protect the public's health and safety.

    Police officers are necessarily trained in the use of power over. Generally, what makes a good police officer can also make him a dangerous harasser.

    He knows how to intimidate by presence alone, using his uniform, his stance, his voice. He can use his "command" or "interrogation" voice to intimidate or to threaten more effectively. He has been trained to use his body, if necessary, as a weapon. He knows how to use arm locks and choke holds -- policing techniques of last resort -- to subdue without leaving marks or bruises. He has a gun.

    There seems no point in reporting harassment by a police officer. The brotherhood of fellow officers is likely to believe him over her.

    And a brotherhood it is.

    Women represent only 17 per cent of the 61,050 police officers in Canada, according to a 2006 report by the Police Sector Council. Moreover, women are relatively new to policing as 74 per cent of them have less than 15 years of experience.

    Police services are systems of male power. Inherent in this culture of male power over is the potential for the abuse of power, which, in the end, is what sexual harassment is about.

    The subject of police culture in relation to police-perpetrated sexual harassment is not new to the Hamilton Police Service. Women's advocates have been raising the issue for many years, particularly whenever a police officer was charged with sexual harassment, sexual assault or domestic violence.

    Changing the culture, however, is the challenge that remains.

    The Hamilton Police Service has taken positive steps to become more inclusive to women by increasing their recruitment efforts and hiring more women. Now they need to create a barrier-free workplace. Reaching this goal requires police services to acknowledge that sexism exists in their organization as it does in all parts of society.

    They must consult with the women in their organization -- listen to them, learn from them and implement a servicewide antisexism training program based on their input.

    Only then will the Hamilton Police Service make meaningful progress in changing their male-dominated power-over culture to one that includes female police officers who do not experience sexual harassment in the workplace.

    Krista Warnke is public education co-ordinator at the Sexual Assault Centre (Hamilton and Area).

    http://www.thespec.com/Opinions/article/473649

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