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State police unveil internal reforms

State police Superintendent David B. Mitchell, in the wake of newspaper articles and a Justice Department investigation focusing on sexual harassment, announced yesterday a new policy to address such behavior within the police agency.

The new policy is based on the recommendations of an advisory committee formed by Colonel Mitchell's predecessor, Larry W. Tolliver, who took the action after The Sun published detailed reports in October of sexual harassment in the agency.

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"Sexual harassment, in any form, will not be tolerated with the Maryland State Police," Colonel Mitchell said last night.

"It's a monumental change for the Maryland State Police in a positive direction," he said. "We're proud of the effort. Now we have to roll up our sleeves and go to work. We have a plan."

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Provisions of the new sexual harassment policy include:

* An outside expert will be hired to develop specialized training for all employees. A training program will be developed this summer, and all agency personnel -- sworn officers and civilian employees alike -- will begin attending sessions this fall.

"We really need someone from the outside to look in," Colonel Mitchell said. "Since The Sun articles, we've had quite a few offers, thank you."

* The outside consultant will assist in reviewing the agency's procedures in reporting, investigating and resolving complaints.

* Witnesses and victims of sexual harassment will be encouraged to report incidents to peer mediation personnel who have received specialized training. Complaints can be handled in an informal manner through a process of conflict resolution. Colonel Mitchell said this worked well in Prince George's County, where he was police chief before Gov. Parris N. Glendening appointed him to replace Colonel Tolliver.

* Commanders will be directly responsible for ensuring that sexual harassment complaints are properly handled and that there is no retaliation against victims.

Kathleen Cahill, an attorney representing two troopers and a former trooper in federal sexual harassment suits now pending against the agency, said she welcomed the new policy. But only time will tell whether it has an effect within the state police, she said.

"While the changes come too late for those who suffered in the past, it is a step in the right direction," Ms. Cahill said. "We'll have to wait and see if this is the beginning of the major cultural change that is necessary."

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The Sun articles detailed incidents of harassment ranging from obscene remarks and jokes to advances that bordered on criminal assault. When complaints were made, they were poorly investigated, and the subjects of complaints rarely were disciplined. Those who filed complaints often were subject to retaliation, the articles reported.

Soon after publication of the articles, then-Colonel Tolliver formed the advisory committee. He also announced a new policy that would allow victims alleging sexual harassment to report directly to him and said that a female investigator from the agency's internal affairs unit would review all future allegations.

Those measures were criticized by experts, who said that effectively combating sexual harassment requires using consultants outside the agency to develop training programs.

The Justice Department notified state officials in January that it was launching an investigation to determine whether the state police agency violated the civil rights of some of its employees.



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