Office Hlavac Fired

Women in Pittsburgh are rightfully angered by the Ravenstahl Administration's bumbling on the domestic violence charges against Sgt Eugene Hlavac who stands accused of a charge of simple assault for punching his ex-girlfriend in the face hard enough to dislocate her jaw.

In 2007, Ravenstahl and his team of top brass pledged a zero-tolerance policy for matters involving a police officer accused of domestic violence, yet the women's groups claim the Administration has failed to demonstrate domestic violence within police families as a major crime.

After accusations were leveled, Hlavac was “reassigned” to the Warrants Office, but his gun, badge and police powers remain in force.  Hlavac is also “using vacation” as a maneuver for Admin to duck and weave on administering discipline.

That's more like 50% tolerance than zero tolerance.  Reassigment to the Warrants Office is like the inner circle of hell or maybe Siberia, but it hardly sends a message that this is being taken seriously.  Sgt Hlavac's charge was held over for court and a PFA has been issued. If you expect men with PFA's to follow the rules, you need to enforce your own rules regarding these court orders. 

Now, last night on KDKA, Ken Rice reported that Hlavac has been fired.  One of the investigative reporters interviewed Hlavac's attorney who claimed he would fight for reinstatement along with custody of his son.  Yet, this morning that story is not the KDKA website.  Nor is reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette or the Tribune Review.  In fact, the PG has a story by Jerome Sherman that is now out of date because of this breaking development.  Thus, I have no source for my claim that he was fired, except for the fact that Ledcat watched the news with me and I'm betting a few of you did as well. 

This is especially worrisome given the heightened fear Pittsburgh women rightfully feel about police response to DV calls and the fact the holiday tensions can give rise to spikes in DV situations. Would you feel it worth a call to report battery by your husband when the media has been filled with stories on the Hlavac situation and the fact that DV shelters are overwhelmed?  Last night, KDKA also reported that Womens Center & Shelter turned away 600 women in 2008.  Good job media.  Focus on the merry of the holiday season and leave the rest of Pittsburgh to wallow in your obsession with bad news.

Another point of contention is the failure of the FOP (Police union) to take this seriously.  By this, I mean not just the Hlavac case, but the entire concept that domestic violence is a problem. 

Some within the police department don't care much for the 2007 law.

Officer Dan O'Hara, president of the city Fraternal Order of Police union, said he personally disagreed with it.

“I have no tolerance for domestic violence. Police officers don't tolerate anyone breaking the law,” he said, adding that he believes the justice system is the best place to deal with someone accused of an act of violence.

The 2007 law, he worries, has the potential to interfere in the personal lives of officers and their families.

First note, that O'Hara is quoted on his personal beliefs. He comes across like an uninformed jackass whom probably still doesn't understand that free speech includes vulgar language and flipping the bird at police officers, in spite of a heavy cash penalty that didn't come from his budget.  O'Hara does not comment, or at least not quoted, on the FOP's official response to the case.

The truth is that Hlavac is going to have the FOP support for reinstatement.  Not only do they just not get it when it comes to the significance of the issue, but they can't afford to ever capitulate to the firing of an officer on this charge.  Hlavac is an administrator, but when studies show that domestic violence is 2-4 times more likely in police families … there's cause for concern with regard to the FOP attitude.

The sentence about the policy interfering in the personal lives is downright deplorable.  Of course it interferes.  The police interfere in people's personal lives all of the time – when a crime is alleged or committed  Why should police be exempt from their own reason for being? 

Listen, Officer O'Hara, policies interfer with my personal life all of the time.  If I commit a non-work related felony, I lose my criminal history clearance and my job. If I fail to maintain a clean driving record, I lost my work auto insurance coverage and my job.  If I travel further than an hour from my site when I am on call, I lose my effectiveness as the on-call supervisor and my job.  It is Christmas and I'm on call from now through New Year's Eve.  That means we have to celebrate in Pittsburgh rather than at my in-laws house.  That means I don't consume alcohol. That means my cell phone goes off at 4 AM with a situation I need to address regardless of the “interference” of my partner's sleep. 

All of us sacrifice a little “interference” when it comes to our employment. Deal with it.

Now don't get me wrong.  I do not believe that all police officers beat their wives and girlfriends, nor do I believe that all officers condone that behavior.  They are on the front lines responding to horrific domestic situations and probably have a better understanding of the nuances of domestic violence than most of the public.  Still, there's also a culture of having each other's back. I can imagine that one would not want to believe that a fellow officer would dislocate the jaw of their girlfriend. I can also imagine that the sense of persecution by heightened public scrutiny and the perpetual sense that the public just doesn't understand what it means to be a cop would raise their hackles and circle the wagons. 

And there likely plenty of officers who struggle with a justice system that slaps abusers on the hand, victims who won't testify and the other systemic consequences of this epidemic.  Even officers who deplore this behavior may not want to acknowledge that their profession is inherently attractive to a personality that craves power over other people.  It doesn't make them, but the thin blue line protects and nutures their violent bullying personalities.

The story of Eugene Hlavac illustrates how much work there is to be done to protect officers families from domestic violence, as well as strengthen police responses to public DV incidents.  The top down approach carved out in 2007 needs a lot of work and the intense pressure from the local coalition against domestic violence is pushing hard on that front.  Jeanne Clark of NOW attended the Hlavac preliminary hearing and used Twitter to keep us all informed on not only the legal outcome, but the nuances of the testimony. It would be easy to see a defense win with the lessened charges, but her account of the multiple defense tactics that were overruled is heartening. 

Then there's the FOP.  I wonder if the coalition could sit down with the women on the FOP (1 out of 11 members of the Executive Board, 8 out of 40 delegates) and have a conversation?  I wonder what other avenues exist to tackle this issue?

I think it is good news that a violent thug has been fired from a job where he carried a weapon and authority.  I have no qualms believing his ex-girlfriend given the man's past as well as his reputation on the job.  If the police brass and the FOP want us to believe in the integrity and authenticity of their response to the crime of violence in domestic situations, they need to weed out the wife beaters and promote the hard-working, intelligent men and women who uphold the values of their occupation.



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