Lauren Houston began her law enforcement career at the Lansing Correctional Facility in Lansing, Kansas in 2013 and was immediately impressed by the camaraderie and support she experienced. She was just one of two females on the special operations response team, selected six months before she was eligible. The positive experience combined with the ability to serve others inspired her to become a police officer in St. Joseph, Missouri.
“I was so excited and thrilled to take the job,” Lauren told Law Officer in an exclusive interview.
“I had no reason to believe that my experience in the St. Joseph Police Department would be any different, but I quickly found out that not every law enforcement job was the same and leadership is all that really matters,” Lauren exclaimed.
Houston said that the harassment began when she was in the police academy, and she alleged that the discrimination started after her polygraph results were released to the entire department.
She described those early days as “tolerable” but that quickly turned to denial as she hit the streets with the St. Joseph Police Department.
Houston heard about rumors being spread about her with a focus on her sex life and while they were not true, she told herself that it was simply part of the early days of her entry into a predominantly male profession.
But she was wrong.
The harassment and discrimination continued and in 2021, Houston was told about chat messages on the department computer system that showed substantial derogatory and offensive comments about her, including requests to dispatch personnel to avoid having her as their backup during calls.
Lauren said that she always believed “there was a light at the end of the tunnel” and that as she proved herself as a good cop, the words and the harassment would stop.
Law Officer reviewed countless achievements of Lauren on the job which included dozens of commendations from citizens and other officers.
But the harassment never stopped.
The constant bashing of her character and her personal life continued and it quickly affected the job that she loved.
The harassment got more passive and more sinister.
Six years into the career that Lauren believed would be her life work, she was at a low point. Contemplating suicide, she wrote this in her personal journal:
With this withdrawal being my self-preservation, at the moment, I have given everyone less of the things that I truly care about for fear that more will be questioned and taken. The person that I was 6 years ago when I left the prison and came to the department is gone now. The proud, motivated, and confident personality that I earned and carried with me has left. It’s not what I want. It’s just survival. I don’t really know who I am anymore.
In June 2022, Lauren decided to take control of what was happening to her and filed a gender discrimination, harassment, and retaliation lawsuit against the police department.
Lynn Bratcher with Bratcher Gockel Law represented Houston in the lawsuit and she told News-Press Now that many government agencies act like the 1950’s.
“They haven’t progressed when it comes to race, sex and age, and it becomes a good-old-boys club type of situation…”
A year later, Lauren accepted a $285,000 settlement and resigned from the St. Joseph Police Department on September 1, 2023.
The city denied all claims made by Houston, telling News-Press Now:
“The City admits no fault but settled the matter to avoid unnecessary legal fees and allow the employment relationship to terminate. It is more beneficial at this point to ensure the efforts of police department personnel are appropriately focused on protecting and assisting members of the community as opposed to dealing with protracted litigation.”
Lauren, now 34 years old, finds herself picking up the pieces of years of mental anguish and depression.
Houston tells Law Officer that “what I thought my future was will never be, but I am hyper-focused on making sure that my experience will never be repeated.”
During Lauren’s experience and subsequent lawsuit, other women reached out to her, telling her similar stories and her pain has now turned to advocacy.
“I began over eight years ago wanting to make a difference and I am still going to make a difference on a more global scale,” Lauren said.
Lauren is committed to helping women in the profession and ensuring that they have the support and encouragement they need to succeed.
Lauren lamented that she sometimes wonders how her life would have turned out if she had that support and encouragement but then she stopped herself.
“I can’t think about the ‘what-if’ and I need to focus on the impact I am going to bring to this fine profession. I refuse to let my experience and one police agency change who I am. I am a fighter, and I will take that resiliency to officers across the nation and do everything I can to help them succeed.”