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State police nominee says he'll curb sex harassment

The acting state police superintendent assured a Senate panel yesterday that he is taking actions to curb sexual harassment in his police force.

"You have to have a clear policy of what's acceptable and what's not acceptable," former Prince George's County Police Chief David B. Mitchell told the Senate Executive Nominations Committee. "People who bring that issue forward won't be harassed, and you have my commitment on that."

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Mr. Mitchell's nomination was approved unanimously by the 19-member committee, but not until he faced sharp questioning on the issue of sexual harassment. The senators' questions were in response to articles in The Sun in December that detailed allegations of sexual harassment in the department.

The appointment of Mr. Mitchell, a 44-year-old Palmer Park resident, must be approved by the full Senate. He was named to his post last month by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

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Mr. Mitchell told legislators that he wants to create a peer mediation network similar to one operated in the Prince George's County Police Department. Under such a system, someone who thinks there has been harassment can bring the incident to the attention of a fellow officer without having to file a formal complaint.

He said he plans to create a training program to increase sensitivity to sexual harassment in the workplace. The superintendent said he is also interested in hearing from an internal advisory committee established by his predecessor, Col. Larry W. Tolliver, which is studying the problem.

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat, questioned whether Mr. Mitchell took sexual harassment seriously. She said she was unhappy with the former police chief's testimony that most police officers "know what sexual harassment is."

"Some of your officers don't seem to know what sexual harassment is," Ms. Hoffman said. "I think [the problem] is much more deep-seated than you realize."

Mr. Mitchell said he meant that overt acts of harassment tend not to be as difficult an issue as the "gray areas" where the harasser may not have intended to offend.

He linked the sexual harassment problem to his wider goal of bringing greater diversity to a department dominated by whites and males. He said the agency's employees should be a better reflection of Maryland's population.

Articles in The Sun described allegations of sexual harassment within the state police, ranging from crude remarks to personal threats. Last year, three troopers filed lawsuits in federal court claiming that the agency had violated laws that protect workers from sexual harassment.



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