A year ago, a group of Denver Police Department employees met to discuss sexual harassment and discrimination within the force.
The women, sworn and civilian staff, listed a series of abuses that occur regularly: a former lieutenant who frequently called drunk at night; the use of gender-based insults; frequent and unwanted comments on women’s bodies. Others spoke about specific incidents of harassment: open discussion about employees’ sex lives; a sergeant who touched his employee’s neck and grabbed her leg; being told that it would be unfair to report harassment to human resources.
After listening to his colleagues’ experiences – and reflecting on his own – Sgt. Carla Havard spoke at the September 27, 2021 meeting and called for an investigation into the allegations.
“I wanted to see justice for them and I wanted to demand justice for this open secret that we’ve known forever – that this institution is still a problem for women and for black people,” she said in a later interview.
Since then, Havard has been sidelined for the diversity and inclusion work she has done for 24 years at the department and is the subject of a deluge of articles, according to a complaint she recently filed. with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Havard said Denver police chiefs, including her supervisor, punished her for speaking out about a work culture that hurts women and people of color in the department.
“At that point, I felt compelled to do what I have done in my 24-year history in the department – champion the legitimate and real improvement of the working environment for women and minorities in this department,” she said.
Havard, a well-known officer in the department and in the community, is one of four black sergeants who are women – the highest rank held by black women in the department. She leads the department’s Citywide Impact team and is also the president of the Black Police Officers Organization.
Department heads declined a request for an interview about Havard’s complaint, but Denver police spokesman Kurt Barnes said in a statement that the agency “has made a number of strides in recent years to improve internal and external fairness practices”. Steps include participating in a citywide racial and social justice academy and implementing respectful workplace trainings.
Havard’s complaint comes as the department tries to recruit more female officers and diversify its ranks. Last year, the department committed to having women make up 30% of police recruiting classes by 2030. Women currently make up 15% of sworn officers and 18% of officers hired so far in 2022 were women.
The department currently employs 24 black female police officers out of a possible 1,596 people on the force, according to department data.
Havard is glad the department is trying to create better working conditions for women and people of color. But that doesn’t excuse the harm that has already been inflicted — especially on black women — or continues to happen.
“We are making progress, but that doesn’t mean the damage hasn’t been done,” she said. “That doesn’t mean the people who have been champions for years have been treated well.”
Since the employee reunion last year, Havard said her supervisor reassigned some of her work to a lower-ranking male officer and forced her to meet unnecessary demands that set her off. She was also sidelined from the diversity, equity and inclusion work she had led and been involved in for years, the complaint says.
“As usual for black women working in spaces where people just want to control us and not collaborate with us, your ideas are appropriate and credit goes to other people,” she said.
In March, her commanding officer placed her on a performance improvement plan for acting “in a confrontational, alarming, aggressive, abusive, dismissive, humiliating and threatening manner”. Her commanding officer would not give her specific examples of when she acted in this way, according to the complaint.
The performance plan “essentially characterized and portrayed (Havard) as the stereotype of an angry black woman,” her complaint states.
“When you’re candid, when you’re genuine, when you don’t apologize, they use systems to try to set you up and stereotype you,” she said.
As part of the performance plan, Havard was to meet with her supervisor twice a week and submit daily reports detailing how she was spending each hour of her shift. His supervisor wrote to him for petty infractions, such as arriving two minutes late for a meeting or rolling up his uniform sleeves while moving boxes, the complaint states.
Havard completed the performance enhancement plan, but the stress and extra work took a toll on his mental and physical health.
She also questioned the department’s inability to recommend anger management classes or counseling for his alleged aggressive behavior. If they were so concerned about her behavior, she asked, why did they let her continue working in the community?
Havard does not know whether the allegations of discrimination and harassment made at the September 27, 2021 meeting have been investigated. Internal Affairs Cmdr. Magen Dodge told Havard that the issues discussed at that meeting were being investigated and “addressed,” according to Havard’s complaint.
Denver Police spokesman Doug Schepman said the department could not say if anyone was disciplined in connection with the discrimination and harassment described at the meeting because the Havard’s complaint was pending. He also declined to explain what the department did to investigate the allegations.
Havard’s complaint will now be assessed by an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigator, who will interview Havard and collect information from the city, said Jenipher Jones, Havard’s attorney. If the commission grants a right to sue, then the two parties will enter mediation and, if that fails, Jones will file a federal lawsuit.
Havard is not the only officer who in recent years has filed complaints of sexism, racism and retaliation.
Dodge, one of the highest-ranking women in the department, filed a lawsuit in 2019 saying the department was “rife with sexism” and alleged that she was effectively demoted after she spoke out against sexist and derogatory remarks. a former police chief. The city paid Dodge $280,000 to settle the claim and agreed to give Dodge responsibility for the Office of Internal Affairs as part of the settlement.
Also in 2019, an officer was fired for sexually harassing a trainee while on a commute.
Two officers were disciplined last month for racist behavior, disciplinary records show. An officer made a racist joke at a Vietnamese recruit and served a six-day suspension. A sergeant served a 10-day suspension for a text message in which he compared a black member of his team to a movie character who was a slave.
“People are leaving in droves because they can barely get to this place,” Havard said. “There is a trauma of being black or being a woman here. Especially being a black woman.
Department data shows that black officers are leaving the department at a higher rate than others.
In 2021, black officers accounted for 17% of departures from the Denver Police Department, although only 9% of the department were black, according to department data. Departures include resignations, retirements and layoffs.
Havard hopes her complaint will spur cultural change in the department and start overdue conversations about how to make it a safe place for all employees.
“I think there are a lot of people who are suffering in silence,” she said.