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10 female cops speak out about sexism, harassment within the Seattle Police Department

caption: Tamara Floyd, assistant chief of investigations at the Tacoma Police Department, is portrayed on Friday, March 22, 2024, at Mercerdale Park on Mercer Island.
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Tamara Floyd, assistant chief of investigations at the Tacoma Police Department, is portrayed on Friday, March 22, 2024, at Mercerdale Park on Mercer Island.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Tamara Floyd was, by most accounts, a rising star in the Seattle Police Department.

She was West Precinct officer of the year in 2012. She was working on her second master’s degree. And she’d been part of a team that did surveillance and street narcotics work. When people talk about Floyd today, they do so with admiration, calling her “exemplary,” “poised,” and “determined.”

Floyd’s ambition was to be assistant chief overseeing patrol. She’d made it to lieutenant. But those hopes faded as she struggled for acceptance among her male peers. She said she was kept out of meetings, or, when she did attend, derisively referred to as the “note-taker.”

Floyd is one of 10 women, all current and former cops at Seattle Police Department, who spoke with KUOW about what they call “a good old boys club” at the department, one they described as rife with sexism, harassment, and favoritism.

These women started talking with each other and agreed to speak with KUOW on condition of anonymity, because they feared retaliation. Floyd was the only one to let KUOW identify her.

The women said that if found out, they could be investigated for speaking to the press without permission. One woman shook through her interview with KUOW.

Five women declined to speak with KUOW, saying through intermediaries that they were scared of retaliation.

One woman said she was called “fucking stupid” at a training in 2021, according to a complaint with the Office of Police Accountability. When she complained formally, it was dismissed as a misunderstanding. Another woman said she was greeted with, “Hey slut” when she walked into a room. One said she was called “yummy” by a superior in front of colleagues, according to a department-commissioned report.

“For so long, it’s been, ‘Boys will be boys. You just got to deal with it,’” one officer told KUOW. When the MeToo movement took hold, she said, “It felt like it didn’t apply to us or reach us because there weren’t enough of us to speak up.”

Beyond harassment, insults, and microaggressions, women who complained formally about sexist behavior said they were often retaliated against in the form of anonymous, unrelated complaints made about them to the city’s Office of Police Accountability.

They started speaking out after Captain Deanna Nollette sued the department and Chief Adrian Diaz in January for sexism — and seeing what happened to her after she filed the suit.

Nollette was moved to the night shift, and three anonymous complaints were made about her to the police watchdog agency. Her attorney called this retaliation.

“The public display of humiliation and degradation of Deanna Nollette sends a loud message to the rest of the women in the department – stay in line, stay quiet,” a female cop said.

In a nearly 1,000-word emailed response, Seattle Police command staff wrote to KUOW that under Diaz’s leadership, “women have risen to comprise a historically high percentage of leadership in Executive, Captain and Lieutenant level.” The response said that Diaz ordered the department to commission a report examining the conditions women face at Seattle Police, and that he was praised by national reform leaders for his efforts.

“As SPD continues to recover from the dual shocks of both the pandemic and the events of 2020, SPD is doing all it can to ensure that it is creating a workplace environment that is healthy, welcoming, and offers equal opportunity for all of its members to succeed.”

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Seattle Police command staff responds to allegations of sexism

Email from the Seattle Police Department's command staff about allegations of sexism from 10 women, current and former cops.

Treatment on the force

Seattle Police leadership has long presented itself as a leader when it comes to supporting its female sworn staff. The department recently put out a video touting a commitment to increasing the number of female officers.

The department was an early leader in hiring female cops and had two female police chiefs in the last decade – Kathleen O’Toole and Carmen Best.

And in 2021, the department signed onto the 30x30 initiative, which calls for recruitment classes to include at least 30% women by 2030.

But the women who spoke with KUOW said this masks reality, pointing to a report the department commissioned last year as part of the 30x30 initiative. That report contained 80 anonymous quotes from women, almost all critical of department culture as it pertains to women.

In interviews with KUOW, the woman spoke of harassment and condescension.

Two female detectives complained separately about a sergeant who has allegedly harassed them, according to records obtained by KUOW. Since they complained, they’ve both had grievances, sometimes anonymously, filed against them.

At one point, the sergeant filed a complaint about one of the women for insubordination, and told an investigator that she wore “club” attire on the job, according to Publicola.

According to an interview transcript, the sergeant later admitted to an investigator that he hadn’t seen the woman dressed inappropriately – but that Chief Diaz had complained to him about her clothes, which were, according to her colleagues, dresses and blouses typical of a workplace.

The sergeant has since been promoted to lieutenant. The two detectives asked to be assigned to patrol – requesting their own demotions to get out from under the sergeant.

Another woman described watching a male assistant chief standing over a female captain before she spoke in public. Looking down at the captain, the assistant chief told her, “Speak slowly, follow your script, and you’ll be okay.”

The woman said it looked like the assistant chief was talking down to the captain, like a parent to a child.

A Seattle officer, who left in 2022 after she was promoted to lieutenant, said her emails were ignored by command staff. Ideas were dismissed by male colleagues.

“As soon as you have a position at the table, you're kind of discounted, and your opinion doesn't count as much with certain men,” she said. “I don’t know if they didn’t like my ideas, or if I wasn’t part of the in-group.”

A veteran cop told KUOW that the department has become even more of a “good old boys club” since she was a rookie cop in the 1990s. She shared a story from early in her career, in 1993, which highlights the environment she started in:

She had pulled up to an apartment complex downtown to assist two senior officers who called for back-up.

After she showed up, the officers called for another cop. The young female cop figured they needed more assistance, but a coworker later told her they called for another officer because she was a woman.

She wasn’t surprised. Her female coworkers had told her to accept that she would be gossiped about, and that her colleagues would claim that she slept with the men she worked alongside. And they did, the veteran officer recalled to KUOW in a recent interview.

The 10 women said they need more women at the top, and more female mentors to help them get there. Women provide a different perspective, they said, and it's inspiring for other women to see female lieutenants, captains and assistant chiefs. It signals that they can get there too.

They pointed to studies that show that women officers tend to have fewer use-of-force and citizen complaints than their male colleagues, which could mean less costly lawsuits against the city, according to a 2019 report on women in policing released by the National Institute of Justice.

Breaking the glass ceiling

In the 30x30 report, an anonymous female officer said that women were “pigeonholed into four different categories.”

There was “the incompetent woman.” Also, the “baby factory who got pregnant to get off the street quickly.” And the last two: “A slut who would sleep with anyone. Or just a bitch.”

Floyd, 46, did everything to avoid categorization, but her gender was still held against her.

She had been on the anti-crime team for a 30-day stint, hoping to be assigned permanently. When she didn’t make the cut, a colleague who had attended the meeting where this was decided, told her, “They didn’t want a girl on the team.”

Floyd grew tired of trying to make it at Seattle Police. It was exhausting being dismissed – or being the focus of anger, like the time in 2020 when a male lieutenant said, “Maybe I should just shoot you,” because he was mad about a decision she made while under orders.

Floyd said she didn’t bother complaining.

But there were inklings that things could change.

In 2019, she became an aide to the patrol bureau chief. Floyd viewed it as a path toward her goal of one day leading that bureau — which has never had a woman in charge.

But then a new assistant chief took over. Shortly after, Diaz became acting police chief, and she was transferred out of the patrol bureau, where she had worked her entire career.

The new assistant chief found someone more conducive to his work style, she said, rounding out his team to be entirely male.

“I was told I needed to get some experience in investigations,” Floyd said.

When a new police chief in Tacoma asked Floyd to apply to be assistant chief there, she did – and got the job.

When she told Seattle Chief Diaz, she said he told her that she could someday lead the professional standards bureau, known internally as the “Pink Bureau,” a pathway for women to be assistant chiefs.

Floyd went outside and called Tacoma to accept the job.

“I wanted to break the glass ceiling at Seattle Police, but I couldn’t,” Floyd said. “So I left to do it somewhere else.”

Isolde Raftery contributed reporting for this story.

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