Sexual harassment in Arundel

July 20, 1992

Anne Arundel County Police Chief Robert P. Russell finally is doing something about sexual harassment in his department. It's about time.

This department has serious problems. Six months ago, after years of virtual silence, female employees began speaking up about abuses ranging from ribald, offensive comments to rape.

Four high-ranking officers were investigated; two have been punished so far. A captain who was charged with rape -- he faced accusations from four different women -- retired before formal charges were filed. A sergeant who described a female officer as "good in bed" was given a day off without pay.

In the beginning, Chief Russell seemed more upset that the women's complaints had become public than that the offenses may have occurred. But he has investigated, and he has punished.

This fact alone serves notice that the days are ending when policemen could tease, insult or intimidate female colleagues without incurring any consequences.

Male officers are starting to think twice before making questionable comments. Women are starting to come forward.

And yet, macho attitudes continue to pervade Anne Arundel's police force. For proof, don't listen to the men; listen instead to the women:

"You just expect there are going to be offensive things said, and you have to go with the flow."

"If a man doesn't notice a women, you've got to wonder what's wrong with him. You can't expect men to be squeaky clean all the time."

"If you [reported complaints], you wouldn't have any friends out there."

Chief Russell recently sent his employees home with a packet of reading material about sexual harassment. That's a fine first step.

Now he needs to teach his officers -- male and female -- what constitutes harassment. Some of them clearly do not recognize it. And as the leader of an agency where respect for authority is paramount, he must show by his own example that the old attitudes are no longer acceptable. The child who never hears his parents swear takes care not to anger them by cursing.

Chief Russell knows how to take a stand. Several months ago, he issued a blistering memo threatening disciplinary action against anyone who spoke to the press about his department's troubles. He needs to be just that strong in changing the outdated, dangerous mind set that maintains that men will be men, and harassment is just an expected part of a woman's workaday life.

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