Halt harassment, but not by spying
Gresham police officials had the right motivation but utilized the wrong methods in their recent attempt to find out who was harassing one of their employees.
Without question, the police Department had an obligation to bring to a halt the harassment of Sgt. Teddi Anderson.
The 35-year-old Anderson, who was promoted to sergeant in 2005, has endured everything from slashed tires to profane, anonymous notes left on her computer. Any responsible employer would have moved swiftly to investigate Anderson's claims of harassment and ensure the integrity of the workplace.
But while the situation certainly called for both investigation and corrective action, it didn't require the unusual step of installing a hidden camera in an office shared by Anderson and five other sergeants. The discovery of the camera has caused hard feelings among some of those who were subject to surveillance and has prompted the police union to file a grievance with the city.
Police image suffers
Obviously, all this turmoil is unhealthy for the police department, but it also places Gresham police in a bad light at just the moment when they are trying to build better public relationships and eventual support for a bigger budget. Police Chief Carla Piluso and other department officials say they were justified in using a hidden camera because they were conducting a criminal investigation - the tire slashing was a crime - and because they were obligated to find out who was harassing Anderson.
We concede that the tire incident was a crime, but it was the type of low-level activity that police wouldn't even respond to - much less install hidden cameras for - if it occurred among the general public. Of greater concern is the need to provide a safe, comfortable working environment for all employees of the Gresham Police Department. We fail to see how secret surveillance did much to advance that cause.
Allegations of harassment ought to be investigated in a uniform manner across all departments at the city. It's unlikely that the human resources department is using hidden cameras when it gets involved with similar accusations in other departments.
The best response in this case would have been to call in the human resources experts and follow their advice. Anderson says she asked that the investigation be kept within the police department and not involve human resources. That may have been her wish, but it wasn't her call to make. Once such harassment is discovered, it has to be dealt with assertively and consistently.
Consistent policies needed
Although we agree with the union that a secret camera wasn't the appropriate method of investigation, we don't think that individuals suffered so much 'trauma and angst' that they ought to require multiple sessions of counseling, as the union is demanding. Trust within the department was harmed more than people's psyches.
This episode could, however, have other unfortunate consequences. It could cause the public to wonder about the professionalism of the department, and it could discourage other employees who are being harassed from stepping forward. Who would want to report harassment if they thought one potential result would be a highly public controversy involving not only the agency, but the personalities within it?
The city can limit damage from this incident by clearly identifying procedures and processes that all departments must follow when harassment is reported. Human resource professionals - and admittedly, the city is short staffed in that department right now - ought to know how to handle this type of investigation in a consistent and confidential manner.
Of the two transgressions that occurred here, the harassment of Anderson was more serious than the use of a hidden camera. But while harassment ought never be tolerated in a professionally run police department, neither should spying on co-workers be necessary to stop it.