Lincoln Police Department says it has begun a ‘culture change’

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – City officials provided an update Thursday on a third-party assessment of the Lincoln Police Department, commissioned by Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird last year.

The assessment by 21st Century Policing Solutions began amid a series of lawsuits by former female LPD employees.

A total of 28 recommendations were given, and so far, five of them have been completed.

Those five included changes to officer recruitment and retention, as well as promotional processes, according to Chief Teresa Ewins.

“The actions we’ve taken include hiring an outside firm to facilitate promotional processes, for all ranks,” she said. “Additionally, we designated the education personnel unit, which includes two HR members in all selection processes for specialized positions.”

The rest of the list included six recommendations addressing topics such as discrimination, harassment, retaliation, workplace bullying and hazing, as well as the reporting and investigation of complaints.

None of the changes in that section have been completed so far, but one is in progress.

There were also four recommendations regarding discipline, none of which have been completed.

Ewins said LPD will have updates on the transparency page of its website as the recommendations given by 21st Century Policing Solutions are implemented.

She also hopes to give a progress update each week detailing specific actions the department has taken.

This past September, Chief Teresa Ewins revealed that 47% of female employees said in a survey they had experienced sexual discrimination, while dozens of women never responded.

On Thursday, the mayor said her administration has been committed to ensuring LPD is free from discrimination and harassment.

“And the department has already made important modifications to its policies and procedures,” she said. “The overarching objective of both recent and forthcoming changes is to enhance workplace process and safety for our current officers and staff, as well as for future cadets who advance through our police academy.”

Ewins said that as a woman and a leader in law enforcement, she takes harassment and discrimination very seriously.

She said that the department supports LPD employees coming forward and that there are multiple outlets for employees to file complaints, including filing at the state and federal level.

“The things that we’ve put in place are all positive. Ultimately, at the end of the day, we need people to come forward,” Ewins said. “There are things people can do in order to have that outlet … if they’re afraid to file a complaint.”

City officials say they are working to create a pathway for complaints to reach the city’s Human Resources Department, as well as a new equal employment opportunity sergeant.

Ewin said the decision of how to handle a complaint would be up to her and the HR director.

City Attorney Yohance L. Christie said this process will not be an entirely internal matter within LPD and will ensure there are no conflicts of interest.

“Generally, we support individuals’ right to seek redress through the courts,” he said. “What we have to avoid is talking publicly in the media about allegations, and we have to let the court process work itself out.”

Earlier this year, former Officer Erin Spilker accused two different co-workers of sexual assault. Her lawsuit said she didn’t report the attacks at the time, fearing retaliation from other officers.

It also claimed that when she did come forward years later, the investigation was not thorough or complete.

At the time, Ewins said, “The department has strong policies that prohibit misconduct, to include criminal actions, discrimination and harassment.  The department provides mandatory training on the importance of inclusion, diversity, professionalism, and ethics.”

Spilker’s lawsuit against the city was eventually dismissed.

Ewins said that through the policies the department will be implementing, LPD will not only be reactive to complaints but proactively address problematic behaviors.

“This is not necessarily unique to only law enforcement; this is in every business,” Ewins said. “It’s about us preventing behavior before it even begins. And that’s by policy, that’s by training, that’s by good supervision, and that is the ideal for me.”

Ewins said it will take some time to implement all the recommendations, since many have to do with hiring new personnel and will require more funding.

“Culture change takes time. It takes time,” she said. “And that’s, law enforcement has changed and it’s evolving. We’re gonna continuously look at our department and assess it for ourselves to see if we are where we need to be.”

Ewins also said there will be more anonymous surveys to check in with LPD’s employees.

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