State police rules on sex harassment will be rewritten

October 11, 1994|By Scott Higham and Marcia Myers | Scott Higham and Marcia Myers,Sun Staff Writers

Responding to a string of sexual harassment reports within its ranks, the Maryland State Police will rewrite its regulations, allowing female troopers and others to complain directly to the head of the agency.

Superintendent Larry W. Tolliver said yesterday that he is ordering the change because many harassment and discrimination complaints are handled at low levels within the agency -- without the knowledge of headquarters.

Under the policy change, troopers will be permitted to file their complaints with the superintendent's office -- now considered a violation of the agency's rigid chain-of-command rules.

"I've already told our people in planning and research, and I met with all of my majors. Sexual harassment will not be tolerated," Colonel Tolliver said.

His comments came in response to articles in Sunday's editions of The Sun that detailed reports of sexual harassment at the state police. The articles also prompted the candidates for governor -- Democrat Parris N. Glendening and Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey -- to call yesterday for changes at the 1,591-member agency.

Based on court records, agency files and interviews with dozens of state police troopers and administrators, The Sun reported that harassment problems are widespread at the agency.

The problems ranged from crude remarks and obscene jokes, to sexual come-ons, personal threats and advances bordering on criminal assault. The articles also outlined reports that complaints are poorly investigated, discipline is rarely doled out, and those who complain face almost certain retaliation from supervisors and colleagues.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer said he didn't know anything about the reports of sexual harassment, and hasn't spoken about them with Colonel Tolliver -- the man he chose to run the agency.

"Don't know anything about it. I haven't had time to look into it," Governor Schaefer said at a reception held in his honor last night at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore.

This year, three troopers -- two women and a man -- have filed suits in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, claiming that the agency violated federal laws protecting employees from sexual harassment in the workplace.

Other troopers have said they reported harassment to agency officials, only to find that their complaints were dismissed and they were ridiculed for coming forward.

Currently, troopers are required to file complaints to their supervisors.

The complaints are then investigated by internal affairs detectives and sometimes forwarded to internal trial boards for hearings. Complaints can take months, and sometimes as long as a year, to resolve.

Of nine sexual harassment complaints investigated by internal affairs officers since 1989, four were referred for disciplinary action to trial boards.

In the two cases that have been heard by the boards, the complaints were dismissed.

Colonel Tolliver said the rule change, which will become part of the Maryland State Police manual, will make it easier for supervisors to monitor cases and make sure they are being handled properly.

"When there are cases out there, they will be handled at the top," Colonel Tolliver said.

The candidates who want to be Maryland's next governor -- a position that carries the power to hire and fire state agency supervisors -- said changes are needed at the state police.

Mrs. Sauerbrey said the agency should consider assigning female troopers to internal affairs investigations involving sexual harassment claims.

State police supervisors acknowledge that they have never chosen a women to investigate a sexual harassment case, or to serve on a trial board hearing a harassment complaint.

Mr. Glendening said Colonel Tolliver's rule change makes sense. He said the superintendent should send a strong message to the state police agency that sexual harassment is unacceptable.

"Those in charge have a responsibility to make sure that it is not tolerated," he said. "The tone must be set early and without reservation. If not, they must be held accountable."

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