Harassment, low morale and heavy caseloads: Report details challenges facing LPD

Sept. 29, 2022, 2:15 p.m. ·

Teresa Ewins, Lincoln's police chief, answers questions at a press conference
I understood the direction we needed to go,” said Ewins. “This confirms what we were feeling, but also brought some other eyes to the conversation.” (Image via City of Lincoln livestream)

A newly published independent review of Lincoln’s Police Department shows growing concerns among its staff on harassment, staffing and diversity.

Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird, Lincoln Police Chief Teresa Ewins and the report's authors unveiled the results Thursday at a press conference. Among the report’s findings:

  • LPD has one of the lowest staffing levels of any police agency in the country of similar size.
  • Employees said they’re facing a larger workload as more officers leave the force.
  • Of the 34 women who responded to the survey, 47% said they’d encountered discrimination and harassment while working in the department. The other 53% said they hadn’t – but 26 women on the force didn’t respond to the survey.
  • Some officers felt that the department gave preferential treatment to women and employees of color, despite low numbers in leadership roles.

“I understood the direction we needed to go,” said Ewins. “This confirms what we were feeling, but also brought some other eyes to the conversation.”

Teresa Ewins with the San Franscisco Police Department at a community forum in Lincoln.
Ewins worked at the police department in San Francisco for 26 years. (Photo courtesy of LNKTV)

The policing consultant agency, 21CP Solutions, conducted the review upon request of Mayor Gaylor Baird. In addition to the surveys, 21CP Solutions also conducted focus groups and held meetings with individual police department employees.

“This report represents that, as a city and organization, we welcome an assessment,” Ewins said. “This is clearly demonstrated by the level of participation from our staff.”

Just over a year ago, Ewins was named Lincoln’s first female police chief – just after 21CP Solutions began gathering information.

In light of the report’s findings, Ewins said Thursday the department has placed a higher emphasis on recruiting, providing leadership opportunities for younger officers who may grow into more advanced roles. She also touted recent salary hikes to help retain a solid workforce. LPD also hired an outside company to conduct promotional testing.

“We are committed to the elimination of the perception that bias and favoritism exists in our promotional process,” Ewins said.

The 59-page report also emphasized issues 21CP Solutions experts are seeing all across the country, “which have become more accentuated with the polarizing effects of national politics,” the report reads.

LPD is not alone, particularly in staffing concerns.

“We heard lots of stories about mandatory overtime, about increased caseloads, low morale,” said Kathleen O’Toole, a former Seattle police chief who now works with 21CP Solutions. “Those messages were somewhat similar to the challenges we've seen elsewhere.”

With as much grim stark details as the report offered, O’Toole said she was pleased to see Lincoln police officers are now the highest paid in the state – an important step in retaining the workforce.

On the harassment findings, O’Toole said it’s hard to manage when there is polarization – and the biggest problem can be finding a solution.

“I think that the challenge will be to accept that people bring different lived experiences to the table,” O’Toole said. “The organization really needs to support a culture of listening to those with whom we sometimes disagree and show respect for differences of opinion.”

Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird's headshot
Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird (Photo courtesy of mayor's office)

A host of LPD officers have resigned their positions or been fired in the last two years, alleging gender-based harassment or other workplace issues. Notably, Angela Sands was fired and threatened to sue. Erin Spilker filed lawsuits against the city after she quit. Last month, a Lancaster County judge dismissed Spilker’s case. Sarah Williams settled her lawsuit and won $65,000 in damages.

Lincoln officials, like Mayor Gaylor Baird, said her number one priority in office has been public safety. Overall, she said she’s pleased that LPD and the city have the tools to take actionable steps to make improvements.

“I'm really pleased with what this report provides us with because it's shaped and influenced and informed by the actual experiences of people in the department,” she said.