To help reform what many say is a misogynistic work culture at the El Paso Police Department, the city should create a diversity in law enforcement committee, do away with the statute of limitation for sexual harassment complaints and overhaul the reporting and investigations process for complaints, a retired sergeant told the El Paso City Council on Tuesday.
“If you are not actively doing something about this culture, then you, too, are part of the problem,” said Rosalynn Carrasco, who retired from EPPD last year after 20 years on the force. “Saying you’ll look into it is not enough.”
Carrasco has been outspoken about EPPD’s hostile work environment toward women, most recently speaking to El Paso Matters as part of the news organization’s months-long investigation into sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the police department, including alleged instances of inaction and retaliation when such issues are reported. She spearheaded a proposal to form an El Paso Police Women’s and LGBT Equality Committee in 2022 that so far has gone nowhere.
On Tuesday, she and former EPPD Sgt. Linda Hanner presented the council with a list of recommendations to bring about change to the police department, including many having to do with gender discrimination and sexual harassment within the ranks.
Carrasco and Hanner said they hope the City Council and city leaders will consider their recommendations as they search for a new police chief to replace Greg Allen, who died in January after 45 years on the force, the last 15 as chief. Assistant Police Chief Peter Pacillas was named interim chief.
“Sexual harassment is a pervasive problem that not only undermines the safety and well being of our citizens, but also erodes the trust between law enforcement and the community they serve,” said Hanner, who retired after 20 years on the force.
“We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to this issue any longer as reports of sexual harassment within the El Paso Police Department have surfaced, revealing a disturbing pattern of misconduct and unequal treatment,” she said.
The recommendations were presented during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s council meeting, which under city rules meant that city leaders and members of council could not address them. The city and EPPD declined multiple past interview requests for its police stories, citing ongoing investigations on the topic.
City Reps. Cassandra Hernandez, Art Fierro and Henry Rivera after the meeting said they would consider the former sergeants’ recommendations, but stopped short of saying exactly what actions they might take.
Henandez said it may be difficult to incorporate into the police chief’s job description that candidates don’t condone sexual harassment, but that looking closely at candidate’s backgrounds would be key. Rivera, a former police officer, said he’d support a diversity committee within the police department but that “as a man,” he would not want to dictate its goals or objectives. Fierro said an item needs to be placed on a future council agenda to discuss the “shenanigans” within the police department.
City Rep. Brian Kennedy said he would start by reaching out to officers who have filed complaints to better understand the scope of the issue.
“I’m not comfortable that we don’t know just how big the problem is. Anytime there’s a tip of an iceberg, I like to know what the whole iceberg looks like first,” Kennedy said.
He added that one of the first police department changes to consider is the complaints process so that those who speak up don’t fear for their jobs. “That’s the ultimate threat and should have no place in the department.”
The representatives said City Council members have met one-on-one with the search firm hired to find police chief candidates but have no timeline to indicate when the search will close or when a new police chief may be hired.
“We need to make sure that whomever we bring in as chief has a good track record and an understanding of the fact that this may be an issue that is going to be dealt with,” Kennedy said “And I think that we need to be aggressive in dealing with it.”
Lisa Turner, a member of the city’s Women’s Right Commission, said she plans to take the sexual harassment and gender discrimination concerns to the commission, an advisory body to the City Council on the needs and issues of women in the region.
“I would be remiss in my responsibilities if I didn’t say, ‘We have to look at this,’” Turner said. “This has to be a priority.”
For their part, Carrasco and Hanner said they hope real change happens soon and that it starts with the creation of a diversity committee to lead the way. The diversity committee should not be led by supervisors, they said. In the 2022 proposal, Carrasco and other police officers said the committee would aim to tackle sexual harassment and a slew of other issues, including paid parental leave and breast pumping accommodations.
And while statute of limitations on complaints such as sexual harassment may be set by federal laws, the women’s recommendations state that complaints be investigated to provide closure to the reporting officers even if discipline would no longer be applicable. That could “serve as a countermeasure to prevent said harassment/discrimination again,” according to the recommendations provided to El Paso Matters.
Among other recommendations to curb gender discrimination and sexual harassment:
- Mandate dedicated lactation rooms in all police facilities; such rooms should not be lunchrooms, confession rooms, restrooms, etc.;
- End the ridiculing of officers via racial, gender or other slurs and report the incidents as discrimination;
- Restructure promotional exams so that they are not culturally biased;
- Require police recruits who quit during their probation period to have an exit interview with city leadership to determine if a hostile work environment was a factor in their decision;
- Require officers in an intimate personal relationship with recruits to notify their supervisor; with the burden to report on the instructor/officer and not the recruit; transfer instructors who are in a relationship with recruits;
- Cease using demeaning photographs of active officers as examples of “stupid” or “incompetent” officers in academy training;
- End ridiculing and reprimanding officers for becoming pregnant and/or making the decision to breastfeed; if behavior is observed, witness officers should report to a supervisor who in turn should document the incident as discrimination.
“We implore you to take these failures into consideration during the selection of the next chief of police as to create a system of checks and balances to ensure greater transparency and accountability within the El Paso Police Department,” Carrasco said.