Psstt … want to hear a secret? Come in a little closer. Little bit closer. OK, not that close.
I’ve got what looks like syphilecolitis, and I’m told it’s highly communicable.
Anyway, here goes: Every new year I get a raging case of Shredimpotence. I worry that people will learn and grow from the prior year’s experiences. You know, not be the Neanderthal tools they were the year before. And I’ll be obsolete. Just like the computer you bought last week, or the phone you bought the week before that.
So happy new year! Let’s see what’s going on in this fresh and free 2012. Hmmm … the Arroyo Grande Police Department—and hell, the city as well—seems to be starting the year off on the wrong foot. Which reminds me: Every year I remember that people—even the ones you pay really well to protect you and lead the community—never learn from their past experiences. And that fills me with a warmth that not even a bottle of Jack Daniels followed by a spiced cider chaser can match.
In case you haven’t heard, two of the Arroyo Grande Police Department’s three female law enforcement officers filed lawsuits against Chief of Police Steve Annibali. And the City of Arroyo Grande, in the true spirit of professionalism and giving every city employee—male or female—a fair shake, responded by publicly bashing the two officers.
“Oh yeah, well Kimberly Martin’s just mad ’cause she was investigated by the DA. So there,” retorted City Manager Steve Adams, according to my interpretation of what he would have told me had I talked with him.
“So the first person to file a suit against the chief is under investigation?” I asked the Adams of my imagination.
“Well, she was. She’s not now. They didn’t actually find anything,” he had to admit, before slinking off to the corner to pout with some of the other creatures that dwell in my subconscious. “She’s still a stupid meanie-head for trying to make us look bad, though.
“We take these complaints very seriously,” he added, while carefully fitting a pebble into his slingshot. “Is that Kimberly over there?!? HA! Got her!”
Typically, when a cop is being investigated, the police department and city employees keep their lips sealed tighter than a nun’s knees. That’s not speculation. We’ve seen it happen again and again. Bad cops, and I mean really bad cops, are protected by departments that throw up their hands and insist they can’t say anything because it’s a “personnel issue.” And here we have a cop who was investigated and cleared of wrongdoing and the city folks are just tossing the information out to the media like it’s a softball they’re hoping will catch fire and destroy her reputation.
So what is it about these lawsuits that has the city so hot under the collar? Well, for one thing, the mayor comes up in the lengthy list of complaints. According to one of the complaints in the two lawsuits that have been filed, in May of 2007 both officers complained to Annibali that another officer was sexually harassing them—and not much happened beyond Annibali, who clearly takes charges of sexism as seriously as the rest of the City of Arroyo Grande higher-ups, calling for backup in the form of Arroyo Grande Mayor Tony Ferrara, who held a meeting with the entire department and, according to the two officers’ complaints, referred to the alleged harassment as “a misunderstanding,” which sounds like a cliché to my endlessly inventive ears.
But then, the idea of sexism within law enforcement is itself a cliché: the idea of spending day after day at an institution that’s going to make you work harder for less: fewer promotions, less recognition, more scrutiny from a boss who doesn’t hold the male officers to the same unfair standards. But clichés do come into being somehow, right? Nobody would be talking about water under the bridge if there wasn’t, you know, water under bridges somewhere.
But back to the officers. We’re hardly talking about crummy cops here. Michelle Cota was named Police Officer of the Year in 2004. The following year she received a meritorious conduct award. The year after that she was nominated for the City of Arroyo Grande Employee of the Year Award, and the year after that she was nominated for the State of California Women’s Police Officer Association’s professional achievement award. This is an obnoxious overachiever, an officer who was making the department look really good, and judging by the allegations about the chief of police’s conduct, that’s a pretty tall order.
Gee golly, wouldn’t it be nice if Betty Sue and Dick, Jr., could enter the workforce knowing they’d be judged by their ability and dedication rather than the contents of their underwear drawer? Even if these two lawsuits are a complete wash—and again, sexism in law enforcement isn’t exactly a major jump-back moment—the city’s response so completely belies their obligation to take these accusations seriously that you have to wonder what man is pulling the strings over there.
I’m sure someone in the administration is crunching numbers and weighing risk factors—and maybe even thinking about merit and truth—but the public face of the city so far has been pointing an accusatory finger even when there’s nothing to back it up. Forgetting for a moment that faces don’t have fingers, how else would you explain the mad rush to paint the officers putting themselves out there with a “they were investigated, so don’t believe these creeps” brush? And how does that not look like sexism itself?
Looks like 2012 isn’t going to cure what’s ailing me. Here’s to hoping 2013 has a better start.
Shredder stands against all isms and leans against all gotrys. Send comments to email@example.com.