Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
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Grand Lake, CO
80447
970-627-3732
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Consider This...  January/February 2001 Issue Number 19

Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the area of sexual harassment, diversity management and conflict resolution will be discussed.

We hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
Let us know what you think!

Upcoming Events

International Conference of Women in Firefighting, March 13-18, 2001 Cobb County, GA. Contact Women in the Fire Service at www.wfsi.org for more information.

National Center for Women in Policing, Sixth Annual Conference, April 4-8, 2001, Palm Springs, CA. Call 323-651-2532 for more information.

"Can Sensitivity Be Taught? Rethinking Diversity Training" April 30- May 6, 2001, Sacramento, CA. This workshop will be presented during the FDIC West Conference. For registration information, call 888-299-8016.

 

In the News

Lessons from Rampart

The Los Angeles Police Department Rampart scandal has led to criminal prosecutions, ongoing civil law suits, and intervention by the United States Department of Justice. It has damaged the reputation of the second largest police department in the nation, and undermined the credibility and morale of the vast majority of its honest and hard-working officers. The Rampart scandal has already cost the department and city millions of dollars, and the costs continue to rise.

From all this damage done, what can be learned? How can leaders avoid having a similar type of debacle occur on their own departments? Ultimately, can anything good come from something that did so much harm?

Under the supervision of the Department of Justice, mandatory reforms in procedure and structure will take place within the LAPD. Some of these reforms will be welcomed, and others swallowed like bitter medicine. Some will be fought in court. All of the measures are remedial, a reaction to what has already happened. But is it possible to look at Rampart and see proactive measures that could be taken to prevent such a situation from developing again?

Rampart, a neighborhood west of downtown LA, leads the city in homicides, narcotic sales, and violent crimes. It is an area with heavy gang activity. One of the LAPD's responses to gang violence was the creation of elite anti-gang police units. Crash (an acronym for Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) was one of those teams, and by the 1990's was knows as the force to be reckoned with in Rampart. The charges against LAPD officers that came out of the Rampart investigation include false arrest, assault, attempted murder, drug dealing, and grand larceny. The list is shocking not only for its contents, but also from the standpoint of how such behavior could go on for so long without anyone knowing about it.

Many factors led to the Rampart scandal, but certainly a major one is lack of appropriate supervision of the unit. One must ask: who was in charge of these officers? The answer is not surprising: The Rampart unit felt itself to be above supervision. "Rampart was home to a bunch of cowboy cops," commented one LAPD captain from outside the unit. "There were all sorts of warning signals coming out of Rampart."

Some of these warning signals included:

  • Despite the fact that most LAPD Crash officers were required to work in uniform, Rampart Crash members made a point of showing up in street clothes.
  • Rampart Crash moved into its own building apart from the main neighborhood station house in 1995 and operated independently from the rest of the officers in the area.
  • Rampart Crash officers re-keyed their station so that other LAPD officers would not be able to enter with the department master key.
  • Rampart officers gave awards to other officers who shot gang members.
  • The principal Rampart informant, Rafael Perez, justified the unit's behavior by saying, "Those guys don't play by the rules; we don't have to play by the rules." The motto posted over the Rampart Crash station door was "We intimidate those who intimidate others."

If nothing else comes out of Rampart, it will forever be a case study on what happens when supervision breaks down. There is no question that special units such as Crash must operate with a great deal of autonomy to be effective. Teams that are empowered to do their work without micro-management are usually the most productive. However, teams are only as good as the leadership that guides them, and in some cases restrains them from excess. What was the Rampart Crash supervising officer doing while all this was going on? Perhaps nothing, or perhaps he was encouraging the behavior by joining in.

Emergency workersö police officers, firefighters, and paramedics, work on their own much of the time, and it is impossible for higher level supervisors to know everything that occurs at the station level. The best way to safeguard against the kind of inappropriate and illegal behavior such as occurred in Rampart is to select, train, and support the best possible people to fill first-line supervisory positions. With the right supervisor in place, the tragedy of Rampart might never have happened.

Some say that the Rampart scandal was all about a few bad cops. Maybe so. But even if only one bad cop existed in the Rampart Crash unit, a good supervisor would have known about it, and could have acted to prevent so much damage to so many people in the long run.

Source: The New York Times Magazine, October 1, 2000

News Brief

The EEOC recently ruled that it is against federal law for employers to exclude contraceptives from their health insurance plans if they cover other types of preventative products or services, such as weight loss drugs or blood pressure medicines.

Source: The Washington Post, December 15, 2000

Sexual Harassment Update

Waiving the Right to Sue

The US Supreme Court is currently considering whether it is constitutional for employers to require workers to give up their right to sue as a condition of employment. The case, Circuit City v. Adams, concerns a man who was required upon his hiring to sign a waiver of his right to sue the company for any reason. Instead, Mr. Adams agreed by signing the waiver to seek in-house arbitration and abide by its results. When Mr. Adams later faced harassment by fellow employees and a supervisor based on his sexual orientation, he tried to work things out directly and through the chain of command, but was unsuccessful. When he finally saw a lawyer, he felt further retaliation from others at the company. Then he filed formal harassment charges against the company, and the company counter-sued him, saying that Mr. Adams had waived any right to sue when he was hired.

Arbitration and mediation as alternatives to legal actions are popular in many organizations. Costs are lower with arbitration, and procedures and results can be kept confidential. Many organizations feel that arbitration allows for a more predictable outcome than taking one's chances in front of a jury.

There is no question that arbitration and mediation have an important role to play in the resolution of workplace disputes. However, whether such methods should be used exclusively is another issue. The confidentiality that may be welcome in some cases may be used to hide ongoing problems or patterns of behavior. In some cases, the deck is stacked against the employee in these systems, such as cases where employers have the exclusive right to choose the arbitrator, or where companies forbid employees from suing them, but reserve the right to sue employees. In some cases, required arbitration is so cumbersome and costly that the aggrieved employee just gives up, or is barred from legal action because the arbitration process outran the statute of limitations for the particular complaint.

In some areas, the legal system is clear that certain rights cannot be waived. Someone cannot waive the right to sue of a third party, for example. This spring, the Supreme Court will decide how far employers can go in requiring alternative dispute resolution measures in the workplace. But beyond whatever decision is reached by the court, an essential question remains. As Mr. Adams said, it makes no sense to put so much time and money into keeping him out of court when all it would have taken to solve the problem was to have someone pay attention to him when the problem first arose.

Source: New York Times, November 3, 2000.

© Linda F. Willing, 2001