DC police officers say they were ordered to get abortions or be fired

police tape
Unsplash/David von Diemar

Two female police officers with the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department have revealed that when they were cadets, their superiors ordered them to terminate their pregnancies.  

Chanel Dickerson, assistant chief of the MPD Youth and Family Engagement Bureau, explained at a recent community gathering at Unity Baptist Church of D.C. that she became pregnant during her time at the police academy. She was told to get an abortion if she wanted to keep her job.

“When I was 18 years old, as a police cadet, I was told I had to have an abortion or be fired from the MPD cadet program,” Dickerson said, as reported by Fox 5. “Wow. My choice to have a baby was personal and it should’ve been mine alone and not ... with an employer ultimatum.”

Dickerson’s ultimatum was not a unique phenomenon. A day after publishing the report about Dickerson, Fox 5 broadcast an interview with Karen Arikpo, a police officer who alleged that abortion was painted as a mandatory course of action for pregnant police cadets. Arikpo recalled a female sergeant in the police academy telling the cadets: “If we were pregnant, we need to get an abortion or we would be fired.”

Arikpo later told her sergeant that she was pregnant. In response, she recalled the sergeant saying she “needed to have an abortion" and "she referred me to a doctor.” Arikpo, who graduated with Dickerson from the police academy in 1997, said the consequences of her abortion still haunt her to this day.

“I’ve never been able to have a kid,” she explained. Arikpo maintained that if she could go back in time, she would have quit the police academy and had the baby: “I did this for a job. ... And then to want kids and can’t have them. How do you tell people that?”

Dickerson is one of 10 African American female police officers who joined a class-action lawsuit filed last month against the MPD, which accuses the department of engaging in discrimination on the basis of race and gender. The plaintiffs are seeking $100 million in compensatory damages and an order declaring that “the MPD’s employment policies, practices and procedures towards Black women police officers constitute unlawful discrimination and retaliation.”

Their legal complaint claims that the Equal Employment Office, the division in charge of dealing with discriminatory problems within the department, is itself headed by a man who “has repeatedly expressed hostility to women officers, and who colludes with management to crush Black women who complain about race and gender discrimination and sexual harassment.”

Dickerson elaborated on the workplace culture during her remarks at Unity Baptist Church. When one of her colleagues “needed a shift that was conducive to taking care of her child as a single mother,” she declared that her colleague “had to do things no woman should ever have to do to care for her child.”

NBC News reported that Tiara Brown, who worked for the MPD for five years and is one of the complainants, was named officer of the year in 2019.

Of the 10 women, three said they were forced out of their jobs with MPD, while five remain on the force, one is retired, and the tenth complainant resigned last year.

“While we cannot discuss the specific allegations due to pending litigation, the Metropolitan Police Department is committed to treating all members fairly and equitably throughout our organization,” responded MPD spokesperson Alaina Gertz in a statement to NBC News.

“We take these allegations seriously and we will be reviewing them thoroughly and responding accordingly,” she vowed.

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