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Women officers have fewer use of force incidents, but only 9% of ECPD officers are women. Could more females on the force have prevented death of Alfred Olango?

By Miriam Raftery

September 29, 2016 (El Cajon)—Mayor Bill Wells has confirmed that the officer who fired the fatal shots in Tuesday’s controversial shooting of Alfred Olango was  Richard Gonsalves—the same officer embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal last year. 

Could a culture that encouraged women officers to join the force have perhaps prevented Tuesday’s tragedy, before Olango pulled out a vaping device mistaken for a gun?

Multiple studies over 40 years have shown  that women police officers  are better at defusing tense situations and have significantly lower use-of-force rates than male officers,  the Washington Post recently reported.

For example, A 2002 study by the National Center for Women & Policing of excessive force incidents in seven major city police departments found that “the average male officer is over eight and a half times more likely than his female counterpart to have an allegation of excessive force sustained against him … [and] two to three times more likely than the average female officer to have a citizen name him in a complaint of excessive force.”

But the El Cajon Police Department has long drawn criticism for tolerating sexual harassment  and other sexual misconduct by male officers toward women on the force--hardly a history conducive to attracting women seeking careers in law enforcement.

Gonsalves was accused of texting nude photos of his genitals and making sexual propositions to a woman on the force seeking a three-way tryst.  He was demoted but remains on the force despite two lawsuits filed by the woman, Tina Greer.   Gonsalves was not charged,  though such actions if true are crimes. After a lawsuit with Greer was resolved she returned to the force but recently filed a new suit alleging continuing harassment by Gonsalves. 

An investigation by East County Magazine found a long and lurid history of tolerance for sexual misconduct at the El Cajon Police Department.  It included multiple past settlements by the city to woman who said they were sexually harassed , yet the harassers remained on the force.  Another officer was convicted of having sex with the underage daughter of a female employee; another was convicted of exchanging sexual favors of women he detained. An entire book has been published on mostly sexual scandals rocking the department, from an officer allegedly sleeping with a witness to tales of parties with underage girls to a double murder involving two El Cajon Police officers in a love triangle.

Our  probe also revealed that as of April 2015,  only 9 of 122 sworn officers at the ECPD are female (though 55 of 67 non-sworn staff are women).That's below the national average.  There were also no women in sworn management positions (though four held non-sworn management jobs.)    

The city did outline its policies aimed at preventing sexual harassment in our April 2015 probe.  The police chief at that time has since retired and a new chief heads up the force.

But the death of  Olango raises the question of whether a more diverse police force might have made a difference—and saved Olango’s life.

If a woman and a black officer had responded to the scene, instead of two white male officers, might the situation have ended differently?

Dan Gilleon is the attorney for both Olango's family and Greer, the woman suing El Cajon for a second time over Gonsalves' alleged actions.

In an interview with Democracy Now,a national radio show, Gilleon stated,"It was over-the-top sexual harassment, something that would get anybody in this world, I would suspect, fired. But for whatever reason, the El Cajon Police Department decided to rally around, circle the wagons around, then-Sergeant Richard Gonsalves and just demote him down and then send him back to work with her, at which point he began continuing his harassment of her...Other officers would start making comments about her complaint about him, because they didn’t like that she violated the code of silence. It’s just a deplorable situation for Officer Greer,."

The attorney added, "And now this cowboy, who felt like he didn’t have to follow the rules that said you can’t send photographs of your penis to your subordinates, this same officer showed up at the scene of a mentally ill person who was, you know, acting out, and decided to take the law into his own hands there, too. And I think that this is just a problem for the El Cajon Police Department, because now, as you see again, circling the wagons, rallying behind this now officer and trying to act like he’s a victim again."

Olango, who came to the U.S. as a Ugandan refugee, had suffered great hardships in his life, but he also had several past convictions including drug charges and illegally owning a firearm while a felon. After two of his convictions, the federal government had sought unsuccessfully to deport him, 10 News reports.  ECPD has said the officers were not aware of those convictions,however, before the shooting.

On the day of his death,  family members have said Olango suffered a breakdown mentally after death of a friend. His sister called 911 seeking help three times.  The dispatch calls reportedly identified that he had mental health issues.

Yet it took 50 minutes for police to respond,  arriving with no psychiatric emergency response team  (PERT) member.   ECPD has indicated no PERT team was available at the time due to another call. Officers reportedly saw Olango wandering in traffic,  ignoring their orders.  One officer reportedly trained a taser at Olango while the other officer backed him up with a gun.

Police say Olango pulled an object out of his pocket and pointed at the officers in a”shooter’s stance,” as a photo appears to confirm, though police have refused to release a video taken by a bystander of the full confrontation.  Both officers opened fire.  Olango was given medical aid and transported to a hospital, where he died.  Later it was determined the object he wielded was a  silver vaping pen for smoking, not a gun. The device had a black boxy holder and resembled a firearm.

The tragedy has raised many issues, including whether his race was a factor and whether more PERT teams are needed to respond to people people suffering mental health crises. 

But it also raises one more serious question:  did the El Cajon Police Department’s  tolerance of harassment toward women contribute to the low rate of females on the force?  If Olango had encountered a female officer with a caring, nurturing attitude, might he have responded differently  and had his life saved, instead of ended by gunfire?

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Sexual Harrassment and fit to serve

Mobster, I guess a lot of us have not only a hard time comprehending how an adult Police Officer mentally see's it as "okay" to give a photo of his wanker to a female Officer and then a Police Dept condones this behavior by putting this so called "adult" on the street where he is required and counted on to make split second judgements after already demonstrating his mental limitations. It confuses a lot of us!

Put Yourself In Law Enforcement's Shoes

Normally I can look forward to unbiased articles in East County Magazine. This clearly is not one of those articles. Yes, sexual harassment is despicable and horrible but I'm afraid in the context of this article it is largely irrelevant. Faced with an individual with his hands in his pockets and then transitioning to all of a sudden pointing both hands in the direction of a law enforcement officer would trigger a deadly response regardless of whether the officer was male or female. I guarantee you when officers pull up on a situation like this it is looked on by them as a potentially life-threatening situation. The main issue here, sadly, was that this individual did not follow the implicit instructions of law enforcement and instead created an unknown situation to which law enforcement responded in a way that allowed themselves to be protected. Yes, perhaps a female officer would not have been as quick on the trigger however that slight delay could have been the difference between life and death for the officer. Again, let me be perfectly clear, sexual harassment should never be tolerated at any level in society but in the context of this article it is largely irrelevant.

NBC 7 interviewed 2 retired law enforcement officers who

also do consulting training. One said the shooting was justified.

The other faulted  Gonsalves for aggressively approacing, with gun drawn,  Olango who was backing away.  He noted that when a person under mental duress feels threatened, they are more act to not follow orders etc.

That was my point.

I agree 100% with you that once someone draws out and aims what looks like a a gun, any officer would likely be justified to defend himself and shoot.

The issue here is before it got to that point; if  a less aggressive/threatening approach could perhaps have been taken,  might that have prevented  Osango from reacting as he did?  We'll never know.

People with mental issues wind up shot a disproportionately high amount of times. The issue here is what are all the things police can do to better handle interactionswith a person in a mental crisis especially when they are not currently accused of any crime (albeit this guy had a long record).   That could mean more PERT teams,  better training for all officers,  and more women on the force since they are 8.5 less likely than male officers to use force inappropriately, per a study of numerous police departments.  I wrote this to see what we can learn for the future to better protect people with mental issues (some of whom may be otherwise good people) --not to fault this officer for pulling the trigger once he believed his life was on the line.

Also,  those faulting the officer don't realize there were people in the restaurant in the line of fire.. If Gonsalves did not shoot, ,and the gun was real, you could have had bystanders injured.

I don't question an officer's right to protect himself and others, , but the actions that led up to it in this case, where possibly a less intimidating approach might make a difference when someone is not in their right mind whether due to mental illness, drugs, mental breakdown, depression, PTSD, etc.


Officer involved in sexual harassment

I fail to see how one officer's demotion for sexual harassment has any bearing on this case. He is not the shooter. This is simple mudslinging. Can we get back to the actual facts. Disappointed in this article.

"Serious question"

It's fairly well established through all of the shootings of unarmed people, that the PDs in general, are staffed by either trigger happy or thoroughly spooked personnel, instead of professionally trained persons who can deal with unusual circumstances without resorting to killing unarmed people. How much training does it require to differentiate between a firearm and a vape device that looks more like a pen. Despite their bullet proof vests, cops tend to act like they're in constant danger from a wild and dangerous public. Inherent in the 'general' motto of most PDs (to Protect and Serve) is the view that the public comes first, not the officer's safety; that's the nature of the job and if some officers are prone to 'shoot first' they should have to answer for their actions through tough disciplinary action including discharge as unfit for the responsibility of policing the public. Another "serious question" that is raised by this unfortunate event concerns the lack of treatment facilities for the mentally impaired, brought about by Reagan's cut in Social Services which has a more immediate impact on this situation than whether or not the EC Police Department has the proper balance of female to male members. That said, it should be clear to the Chief of Police of the EC PD that this character is more than just 'unfit' for the job; he should be prosecuted and fired for his continued sexual harassment, moreover, if there's additional harassment within the ranks directed to the female officer for breaking the "code of silence", it should be cause for a thorough shake-up of that Department to do away with that 'built-in protection' most PDs enjoy, at the expense of the public and of justice or the Chief should be replaced with someone who has a better grasp of the job's responsibilities. Speculation as to whether a better balance of female to male members of the PDs would result in less killing of unarmed persons does little to address the real problem affecting most PDs which might be defined as a mindset of 'us' versus 'them'. The public is seen as the enemy, from which the cops must be protected and it seems to have begun with the introduction of the bullet-proof vests now worn as part of the uniform. Those vests create and reinforce with each new donning, the mindset that the public is dangerous and leads to the all too ready deployment and use of weapons in every situation. That mindset which has permeated most PDs is what should be addressed and on a national level.