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Women in Policing

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More Sexism than Ever at Sonoma
County Sheriff's Department

Lawsuit Update
Lawsuit as Filed (March 23, 2005) pdf, 415 KBs
Letter to Sheriff Signed by All 13 Female Deputies pdf, 1.13 MBs (December 22, 2004) (Document takes a couple minutes to load.)


..............Male deputies openly bragging about driving women out of the department, male deputies boasting about turning their backs on domestic violence victims, unrelenting retaliation against female deputies who report harassment, department protection and promotion of the perpetrators, spiteful, anti-women, written policies, failures to back up female deputy calls for help, unwanted kissing and intimacies from male deputies..............

..............Of the 243 sworn law enforcement deputies in the department, only 13, or a meager 6% are female; less than half the national average of 13% female sworn officers for a department of comparable size. Moreover, there is not one female deputy of any rank in the department..............


These are just a fraction of the allegations in the most recent sex discrimination lawsuit against the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department filed March 23 in federal court by Lauren Ferrara, a recently resigned deputy, and by corrections seargent, Robin Smith.

In addition to Sheriff Bill Cogbill, the lawsuit names more than a dozen assistant sheriffs, captains, lieutenants, and seargents as defendants, many of whom are repeat offenders named as perpetrators in prior sex discrimination cases. Promoted over the years, instead of being fired, these career offenders now fill the department's upper ranks.

This new lawsuit comes just three months after all thirteen of the department's female deputies jointly signed a 14 page letter of protest and calls-for-changes to Sheriff Cogbill. The letter comes after the women exhausted other remedies to correct the "sexist" and "abhorrent" work atmosphere described in their letter.

Together, the lawsuit and the letter paint a disturbing picture of a rogue department galvanized around anti-women hostilities, from the top ranks down. Moreover, they cap a decade of department failures to correct its archaic disdain for women, despite constant pressures on the department to do so by women's rights groups, and by numerous warnings from state and national officials.

A Decade of Shame

Over the last ten years, the same Sheriff's Department has already paid out over a million and a quarter dollars in at least ten other sex discrimination claims. Most of these lawsuits were filed by female deputies. But in the most renowned case, in June, 2002, Sonoma County Sheriff's department was ordered to pay a million dollars to the children of slain domestic violence victim, Teresa Macias, for the department's sexist and racist disregard of Teresa's more than 22 calls to the Sheriff for help.

During these same ten years, there have been ongoing efforts by women's groups, and numerous warnings by justice officials, to break up the virulent male monopoly that grips the department. But despite petitions, scores of demostrations, two US Department of Justice investigations, an attorney general report, and grand jury and other commission reports, Sonoma County Sheriff's Department ends the decade more locked into its neanderthal male rule than then when the decade began.

Women's aspirations inside the department remain crushed. Many top quality female officers are driven from the department. Others are never hired in the first place. Women crime victims who call the department for help continue to receive dangerous and contemptful responses. And the community safety is compromised, and robbed of the many proven, essential benefits women bring to policing.

Three decades of research on women in policing are indisputable; women use a style of policing that relies more on communication and less on the use of force. Female police have dramatically fewer excessive-use-of-force and other misconduct complaints than their male counterparts. Female police excel in de-escalating violent and volatile situations, in carrying out community policing goals, and in fostering the cooperation and trust of the community. They treat violence against women and children more seriously, crimes which account for more than a third of all police calls. At the same time, the research shows that female officers are as fully capable and willing as male officers to use force when necessary.

Fulling integrating women into law enforcement is the essential and best remedy for improving policing, and for fixing the flaws that have plagued law enforcement for decades.

Overview of the research on women in policing see:

Recruiting and Retaining Women:
A Self Assessment Guide for Law Enforcement

Additional Publications on Women in Policing

The Immeasurable Harm to All

As a community we invest huge resources and exclusive government powers in the Sheriff's Department. Allowing defiant, male supremacists to control these powers and resources does immeasurable harm to the community. Here are just a couple points to consider:

  • It's impossible to stop violence against women when many of the authorities who respond have much the same mentality as the perpetrators. If the men at the Sheriff's Department can't even work with women colleagues, imagine what happens to the very vulnerable women who call the Sheriff's Department for help!

  • The never ending train of other abuses of power by the Sheriff's Department - the excessive-use-of-deadly-force, the deaths and lawsuits that follow, the jail deaths, pornography scandals, racial discrimination, coroner-expert perjury, the gun-to-the-head training exercise - all leave deep scars in community trust in addition to the direct harm to the immediate victims. Most recently, this is evidenced by the protest and outcry of more than 200 Windsor Latinos last Fall against the Sheriff Department's abusive tactics. These gross abuses of power flow inevitably from the arrogant, supremacist, flat-learning curve, roster of men who fill the department's top ranks.

  • Sonoma County Sheriff's Department is the largest law enforcement agency in Sonoma County, responsible not only for all law enforcement in unincorporated areas but also for all law enforcement in the towns of Windsor and Sonoma. In addition, the Sheriff's Department has exclusive control of managing the county jail, and of the coroner's office and it's critical county-wide functions.

  • Sheriff's deputies hold many ranking and teaching posts at the SRJC Police Academy, including the directorship of the evening academy. In the year 2000, under the directorship of Sheriff's Deputy Peter Hardy, 5 women cadets out of a total of 8 female cadets were driven out of the academy by sexual harassment that had been repeatedly reported to Deputy Hardy and to other Sheriff's deputies. These male Sheriff's deputies supported the perpetrator male cadet and allowed him to graduate, as they allowed the women's careers to be destroyed.
    (Click here to see Sexual Harassment at SRJC Police Academy)

Beginning Remedies

1. Support the Female Sheriff's Employees. In addition to outlining the disastrous environment for women inside the department, the 14 page letter by the female deputies calls for a number of specific changes needed inside the department. We urge everyone to please read this letter in order to better support the women's requests. (To see letter click here.)

A key request of the women that should be fulfilled immediately is their call for an outside expert/consultant to be brought in to "bridge the gap" between the female officers and the department.

As such, an urgent first step in fixing the Sheriff's department is for people to call or write the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and insist that this request of the female officers for an outside expert/consultant be met immediately.
Board of Supervisors - 565-2241

Here are some other beginning community urgent care tips for bringing up our Sheriff's Department.

2. There needs to be a long term, independent watchdog committee - of the pit bull variety - with the sole focus of ending employment sex discrimination at the Sheriff's Department. The committee needs to monitor the recruiting, retention, promotion, written policies, and other issues related to female employees. This is particularly critical as the department enters an accelerated hiring phase.

Probably the biggest mistake that's been made in the past, whether by local groups or by justice officials, has been to take the Sheriff's promises at their word that corrections would be made. By now it's clear that the Sheriff makes these promises only to fend off the public vigilance so they can continue in their contempt for women with impunity. Constant, ongoing, independent monitoring is essential to ending the discrimination.

3. Many Heads Must Roll. There's no way that the needed changes can take place without removing the abusers that control the top ranks of the department. No matter what corrections are put into place, if the abusers remain at the top they will sabotage the changes. The women deputies' letter to Sheriff Cogbill, as well as the record of lawsuits, as well as the community's experience with the department, all point to the same conclusion. The worst perpetrators have promoted each other over the years and consolidated their abusive tactics into policy. They need to go, now!

Here's just one example: In 1997, veteran deputy and highly respected violent crimes detective, Ann Duckette, abruptly left the department and filed a sex discrimination complaint. The male detectives of the prestigious violent crimes unit had frozen her out, she claimed. They wouldn't communicate with her, and they actively sabotaged her cases by hiding and obstructing the evidence in multiple felony violent crimes cases up to and including a murder case.

At least four of the male detectives in that unit at the time have since been promoted. At least two of them are named in the current lawsuit.

4. Women must be moved into the top ranks of the department; drawing from within the department, and lateraling in from the outside. Trying to correct the discrimination solely by bringing more women in at the bottom while leaving men-only at the top will just reset the stage for a resurgence of the male supremacy. In addition to promoting from within, high ranking women must be 'lateraled in' from other departments.

The long standing reluctance of the upper ranks to cross pollinate with the rest of the world has only exacerbated the closed mentalities plaguing our local agencies.

5.The ranking officials of our Sheriff's Department cannot be believed. It's an intolerable dilemma for the public when we can't trust the people we've entrusted with power. But the record is clear. Too many of the men who fill the top ranks of the department have constantly lied and deceived the public at critical junctures: lied to the press, lied in depositions, lied to justice officials, lied in writing, and in front of the camera.

Here's the most recent example. In a March 23 response to the lawsuit, the Sheriff's department issued a press release listing the things the Sheriff claims to have done regarding the female deputies' requests. But according to the text of the lawsuit and other sources none of the women's requests had been responded to by that date.

In order for problems to get solved, it's essential the public not take the department at their word.

6. Look Beyond Local Press for the Facts. Part of the reason the public believes Sheriff's officials is that the local press serves more as a public relations arm for the department than as a critical, objective observer. This lap dog journalism over the years has kept the public from seeing the gravity of the problems.

Here's the most recent example. Neither of the two articles published by the Press Democrat on the current law suit reported the department's alarmingly low statistics of female deputies. This information was withheld despite the fact that the numbers were readily available, easily verifiable, and highly significant to the story. In contrast, the San Francisco Chronicle placed these statistics prominently in their article.

In addition, neither one of the Press Democrat articles noted that the thirteen female officers who signed the letter were all the female deputies in the department, and the only female deputies. The numbers in this situation are the solid and indisputable information the public needs to understand just how serious the situation is. When all thirteen female deputies jointly write and sign a 14 page letter, we, the public need to be alarmed!

Note: A key difference between the Sheriff's department and other police agencies is that the Sheriff's department has two distinct and separate functions - one is law enforcement and the other is running the county jail. Sheriff's law enforcement officers are deputized. They have the power of arrest, along with other law enforcement powers. The jail corrections officers, however, do not have these powers. The law enforcement deputies and corrections officers don't rotate from one side of the department to the other.

There is a significant percentage of female corrections officers. But according to the department's own December 2004 figures, on the law enforcement side only 6%, or 13 out of a total of 243 deputies, are female. These 13 female deputies wrote and signed the letter to Sheriff Cogbill.

Though there is a hostile environment against women throughout the Sheriff's Department, clearly the law enforcement side goes beyond hostility to a pattern of keeping women out and driving them out altogether.

It's important to understand this difference because Sheriff's officials often attempt to deceive the public about the lack of women on the law enforcement side by presenting the statistics in a lump sum. That is, by adding corrections officers and law enforcement deputies in one sum, the near non- existence of females in law enforcement becomes invisible.

Note 2: Sadly, since the December letter was written another one of the women deputies has left the department, leaving now only 12 female deputies. Cheryl Mayhew was a veteran law enforcement officer and a detective on the domestic violence/sexual assault unit.

Feel free to photocopy and distribute this information as long as you keep the credit and text intact.
Copyright © Marie De Santis,
Women's Justice Center,


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