Crackdown on sexual harassment State Police: Firing of high-ranking major sends message to 'old boy' network.

August 04, 1996

WARNING TO the "good old boys" at the Maryland State Police: You put your job in jeopardy if you decide to play macho cop with the department's females. That's the clear message Superintendent David B. Mitchell sent when he fired a top major for repeated incidents of sexual harassment.

It was the correct response. A three-member trial board, after hearing four days of testimony, had found Maj. Edward E. "Earl" Dennis guilty of sexual harassment involving seven women in the department but had merely recommended demotion. Colonel Mitchell would have none of it. He summarily fired Major Dennis. Such conduct will no longer be condoned.

Colonel Mitchell's harsh response was appropriate. It also is in line with his pledge last year to end sexual harassment in state police ranks. A Sun investigation two years ago found a widespread pattern of harassment of females there and a failure by commanders to respond.

That attitude is changing, thanks to the superintendent's commitment. There are new reporting procedures to make it easier for victims to file complaints. There are consultants drawing up sensitivity training programs. Supervisors are under strict orders to focus on ways to stop and punish troopers who abuse female colleagues.

Colonel Mitchell came to his job after cleaning up the troubled Prince George's County police department. That agency had for years been accused of racial abuses. By the time Mr. Mitchell left to run the Maryland State Police, the P.G. situation had been vastly improved.

For decades, the state police was a "good old boys" network, where chummy longtime veterans resisted changes and clung to their hidebound ways, thanks in large measure to their influence with rural legislators. Numerous superintendents ran afoul of this network. But Colonel Mitchell got his job because of his impressive P.G. performance under then-county executive Parris N. Glendening. There's no doubt that this superintendent has the governor's full backing -- and that under this administration, sexual harassment of any kind can be fatal to one's career.

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