MPD CHIEF CAUSE OF EXODUS OF OFFICERS, LOW MORALE, COPS SAY - The Explorer: Import

MPD CHIEF CAUSE OF EXODUS OF OFFICERS, LOW MORALE, COPS SAY

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Posted: Tuesday, August 6, 2002 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Blunt allegations of dishonesty, favoritism, belligerency and vindictiveness are being leveled against Marana Police Chief David R. Smith by former and current police department employees, who claim Smith's management of the department has resulted in plummeting morale, an exodus of veteran officers and supervisors, and a rash of police misconduct that threaten the MPD's ability to protect the community.

And while Marana Town Manager Mike Hein and members of the Marana Town Council say Smith enjoys their unqualified support, interviews with 18 current and former MPD employees and thousands of pages of documents obtained from the town reveal a police department shaken and operating on the brink of crisis.

"There's always been a lot of problems in the department," said Matt Goldstein, who resigned in 2000 after helping establish the MPD's Office of Professional Standards, which now develops policies for the department and conducts internal investigations of officers, "and the biggest problem the MPD has always faced is the chief."

Bolstering the employees' accounts of the turmoil roiling within the MPD are employee surveys conducted by the town and MPD, exit interviews completed by Marana's human resources department, resignation letters and other documents.

Others adding their voices to the rising clamor include the only two other police chiefs besides Smith who have ever led the 17-year-old department, and former Marana Town Councilmember Roxanne Ziegler.

"One of the first things I was told by other councilmembers after I was elected was to watch out for that (police) department, that there was trouble over there," said Ziegler, who chose not to seek re-election last year. "But nobody ever does anything about it despite the fact that everyone knows there's been a real problem going on over there for years."

High profile incidents of misconduct in the department over the last two years have included almost the entire MPD patrol force and Smith himself working as paid off-duty security guards at a violent Marana nightclub while at the same time investigating deaths and shooting that occurred at the bar; an officer fired after being accused of repeatedly forcing a Marana motel worker to have sex with him; a drunk and partially undressed off duty officer arrested for burglary by the Tucson Police Department; and most recently, the firing of an officer in May for viewing pornography while on duty and showing nude pictures of himself to female MPD employees. That incident led to the suspension last month of the officer's sergeant and the resignation of another officer investigated for possessing pornography while at work.

MPD employees claim Smith has covered for other officers who have been accused of serious misconduct and criminal behavior, ordered police reports changed, and harassed police officers he believes are "disloyal." (see related story page 7)

At least 13 people have left the 80-member Marana police department in the last nine months, and the vast majority of those employees resigned, according to records obtained from the town.

The total doesn't include other employees who are unavailable for duty, such as a suspended patrol sergeant appealing the department's attempt to terminate him and a civilian employee who was recently placed on disability leave.

The number of resignations and terminations balloons to 32 civilian and sworn police officers who have left the department since January 2000, including two of the three lieutenant positions in the department and several sergeants, for a turnover rate easily exceeding one employee resigning or being terminated each month.

During that 31 month period, 22 employees resigned, six failed their probationary periods, one entered into medical retirement, one took medical leave, and one record clerk's reason for separation couldn't be determined.

Only one person, the officer charged with possessing pornography was fired, besides the patrol sergeant who is on suspension while appealing his termination, according to town records.

Employees on probation, such as the officer charged with forcing sex on a Marana motel worker, who was later cleared of criminal charges after a grand jury refused to indict him, were simply released after having failed the standard probationary period extended to all new employees.

The drunk off-duty officer received a 10-day suspension without pay after the Pima County Attorney's Office withdrew the felony burglary charge.

As of July 12, the MPD was operating with eight of its patrol officer positions vacant - slightly more than a fifth of its authorized strength of 42 patrol positions, according to staffing records.

Bill Conley, a reserve patrol officer who served six years with MPD, became the most recent person to leave the department when he resigned July 26.

Conley was one of only two unpaid reserve officers in the department and performed the same patrol duties as regular officers and held the same state certification. He claims he resigned because Smith was intentionally endangering his life by refusing to issue him a bullet proof vest or replace worn equipment.

He made do with an expired and oversized vest borrowed from another officer, and said Smith's reason for not issuing safe equipment to him was because Conley filed a complaint against the chief three years ago.

"It is my opinion that the low morale within the department is due to your behavior, unwillingness to deal with valid officer complaints, your affecting department policy inconsistently, intimidation and harassment of personnel you believe are not sensitive to your management style, and your willingness to abuse and compromise the office of chief of police," Conley wrote in his letter to Smith.

Smith, who has led the MPD since 1991, has repeatedly declined to comment on the problems in his department and has a strict policy forbidding department employees other than public information officers from speaking to reporters. An MPD spokesman confirmed last month that officers accused of misconduct are also being questioned during lie detector tests as to whether they are speaking to the media.

"The chief's launched a witch hunt because problems in the department have begun spilling out," Conley said in an interview after his resignation. "He knows it's out of control."

All of the employees currently working for the department who agreed to speak to the Northwest EXPLORER did so only on the condition of anonymity.

"The concern is not just that the chief will fire anyone he thinks is speaking out, but that he will try and blackball you from law enforcement jobs entirely," one currently employed MPD supervisor said.

Each of the current and former officers and civilian employees interviewed told startlingly similar accounts of problems in the MPD, with almost all citing Smith as the primary problem. The small balance of the employees who didn't blame him directly claimed he was at least ultimately responsible for the declining morale, turnover of employees, and increased incidents of officer misconduct.

"My problem was more with other people who were out of control," said Carolyn Gomez, who became the department's first female sergeant, but resigned in September after she was demoted. She claims she was targeted for retaliation after complaining about the sexual harassment of one of her subordinates by another employee.

Gomez, who served two and a half years with MPD and now sells real estate, was accused of harassing and presenting false information about the woman she accused of sexually harassing another officer, according to MPD internal investigation reports.

Gomez said she resigned from a successful career as a Pima County Sheriff's Department detective to join the MPD in hope of more rapid promotions. Pima County human resources records indicate she left on good terms.

Gomez said her demotion and subsequent resignation in Marana had as much to do with her voicing concerns that her married lieutenant was having an affair with the girlfriend of one of her female patrol officers.

"But despite my problems with my immediate supervisors, yes, the chief is ultimately responsible for the department" Gomez said. "It's a good-old-boy network. The department is not operating as it should."

Gomez said she is considering filing a civil suit against the MPD. Bruce Thomas, a police lieutenant who resigned last month, and who sources say endured years of harassment by Smith, is also considering filing a lawsuit against the department.

One former MPD supervisor, who asked not to be identified because he was considering returning to work in law enforcement for another agency, said he left because working closely with Smith was "causing me medical problems, I was having chest pains, and was convinced I was going to have a heart attack because of the chief."

The former supervisor said Smith created constant shifts in policies that left subordinates confused, screamed and belittled them on an "almost daily" basis and frequently threatened employees' jobs.

"The joke in the department was 'what's the policy of the day?' But it wasn't really a joke. People were terrified because if they weren't on top of whatever the new policy was, he would just cut loose on them. And it was never 'could I have a word with you.' He would just stick his head out his office door, scream your name at the top of his lungs and yell 'get you're f------ ass in here now!'" the former supervisor said.

Most galling to many of the MPD employees, several officers said, was the fact that Hein and the town council seemed to blatantly ignore what they say were clear signals of a department in distress.

Former motorcycle officer Chet Babcock spent a decade patrolling Marana before he resigned from the department in May 2000. He cited Smith as his primary reason for leaving, but was "astounded by the refusal of anyone in town government" to look into police matters.

"I just decided that I wasn't going to deal with it anymore," Babcock said. "But one of the things that really concerns me about all this was that nobody was asking any questions. I mean if I was a supervisor, mayor or a city manager and I had a 10-year veteran with a spotless record just walk off the job, I would want to know why."

Hein refused to say what mechanisms he relied on for monitoring activities in the police department or the performance of its chief.

"I find that it's incredibly awkward to respond to that, because if I offer a response, I may violate some confidences, or appear to be disinterested if I respond another way. The fact of the matter is that when people make allegations that I am turning a blind eye, I would challenge them to say 'to what?" Hein said.

He relented that one method he uses to gauge the police department is monitoring exit interviews of departing police employees conducted by the town's human resources department.

"We continue to look at the exit interviews, those that are provided," Hein said. "(There's) no real change, no change in pattern, there's no alarming accusations or innuendoes and certainly no specific areas of concern that are provided."

While 10 of the 19 employees in their exit interviews obtained from the town expressed little opinion one way or another about the jobs at MPD or at most took issue with mundane matters such the hours officers were asked to work, the nine other interviews had specific complaints with the supervision of the department.

None of the 19 interviews offered any praise for Smith, while several were explicitly critical of the police chief.

A human resources employee's comments after interviewing civilian employee Redonna Kadous in late 1999 contained the entry "Redonna seems dissatisfied with low morale in the police department. She feels that it stems from the chief. 'The town and department have outgrown him.' Redonna is reluctant to provide detailed information regarding her feelings, however (she) insists that most employees feel the same, but cannot say anything for fear of 'blackballing.'

"She mentioned a possible meeting with Mike Hein. She says problems range from small to big, and that everyone is aware, including sergeants and lieutenants," the human resources employee wrote.

Officer Tim Hiatt placed his own entry in his exit questionnaire in September in answer to a question that asked "If I could change one thing, what would it be?"

"The chief of police, his dishonest practices with officers. Lack of respect for his officers. The rules apply to everyone but him. The town overlooks what really goes on in the police department," Hiatt wrote.

Officer Wende Rosson wrote in March of last year of "multiple incidents" of sexual harassment by patrol sergeants, and answered the "what did you like least about your job?" question with "Unfairness. Blatant policy violations brought to attention and ignored/hidden."

A survey of police department employees' job satisfaction compiled in early 2000 came back with a large number of responses that also roundly vilified Smith.

"Hope the town will realize that PD has serious morale issues (due) to its chief and will do the right thing in order to save the employees that want to continue working here. PD chief has destroyed morale, confidence and disrespects female employees," one respondent wrote on their anonymous response for the survey.

Hein, in an interview conducted shortly after the Northwest EXPLORER obtained a summary of responses from the survey, discounted it by suggesting the survey was rigged by a "handful of disgruntled officers who stuffed the survey ballot box."

The University of Arizona graduate student from the college of business and public administration who conducted the survey for Marana said he saw no indications of "ballot stuffing," noting that they were all in different handwriting.

Two years later, Hein said the town still had no immediate plans to conduct another survey of the police department's employee satisfaction.

"We decided that surveys were not a proper venue," he said.

A veteran officer said that after years of being mystified by the lack of concern from town hall over problems in the department, he and several other employees had come to the conclusion that neither Hein nor the council wanted to be tarnished by the problems in the department.

"They're just quietly trying to do damage control because they know when this whole thing blows up, it's going to land on them. The council, for the most part, is in the dark. Some of them just recently seem to be starting to ask questions, but that may have more to do with the fact that council elections are coming up. Hein seems to not want the career he's building screwed up by the blow back from this whole mess when the explosion does come," the officer said. "He's got this golden reputation that he would like to maintain."

Marana Mayor Bobby Sutton Jr. and Vice Mayor Herb Kai said in interviews July 16 that they were satisfied with Smith's handling of the department, but that they relied on Hein to oversee police matters and keep the council informed of problems.

"I think the chief is doing a good job. I'm not aware of any significant problems over there, but that's more a matter that we rely on (Hein) to handle. When there is a problem, he makes us aware of it, talking to us individually and that type of thing," Sutton said.

"We get monthly reports from the department, and Mr. Hein is the one that is more deeply involved in the police department and he and Chief Smith do a good job of overseeing the department," Kai said.

Other members of the council gave similar responses, except for Councilmember Carol McGorray, who refused to comment at all.

"I don't get involved in police department matters. I have no comment," McGorray said.

The police department's standard report contained in information packets received by the council each month is in actuality the police department newsletter.

The 12-page newsletter generally contains breezy sections on the children's police Explorer program, a humor column, a calender of employee birthdays and reprinted letters from citizens complimenting officers on their customer service or assistance. The only "hard" information contained in the newsletter is monthly crime statistics, which on average, are usually three months old.

Ziegler said, from her experience, police matters were handled almost exclusively by Hein and the council received little information about the police department.

"Being a council member, you would think that you would hear things. But we're the last one to know," Ziegler said. "If you had enough smarts to say 'hey, we heard this guy got into trouble' and went and asked, they would give you the report. But would they give it to us as standard operating procedure? Hell no."

Ziegler said she after the troubling results from the employee survey were released, she implored Hein to look into the department's problems and was rebuffed.

"I don't know what it is between Smith and Hein with that department, but something is going on there," Ziegler said "They just seem to want to ignore the problems. (Hein) just turns a blind eye when it comes to that police department."

Hein, in an interview last month, said he was convinced there were no significant problems in the department, and that Smith enjoyed his total support.

"I think that the Chief has done well from a management standpoint, I think that fiscally, he's very responsible. I think that he has good communication with the manager. I think that he has the good of the department and the good of the community in mind. I think that he has a good idea of where the community needs to go during the remainder of his tenure and even afterward. I think that he has a good vision and I think that he has the ability to implement that vision over time," Hein said.

Hein said he had discussed the turnover and loss of several supervisors with Smith in July, and came to the conclusion that it was not indicative of an overarching problem in the department, but was rather simply a case of people leaving for a variety of reasons.

"I think you have to in time you have to evaluate each individual set of circumstances. Have we lost some good people? Yes. Have we lost some people that probably needed to go? Absolutely," he said

When pressed if he believed there were any problems in the MPD, Hein said, "I think there are issues that I'm concerned about in the police department, but none that I would choose to air in the local newspaper."

Many of the MPD employees say the turnover would be worse if it wasn't for the fact that Marana's starting salary for patrol officers of $16.77 per hour wasn't one of the best in the region, exceeding the $16.34 starting wage paid to the much larger Pima County Sheriff's Department and the $14.37 paid at the smaller South Tucson Department of Public Safety.

MPD starting wages are competitive with the $16.83 paid to new hires in the Tucson Police Department and the $17 paid to Oro Valley rookies.

Almost all of the current and former employees say despite the good pay, camaraderie, and the small town atmosphere that working for the MPD offers, Marana can expect a continued exodus of officers from the department under Smith's leadership.

David Holloway, who served as interim chief in Marana prior to Smith's arrival, sought out the Northwest EXPLORER to voice his concerns about the current state of the MPD.

After leaving Marana in 1991, Holloway went on to a career as an officer with the Tucson Police Department before becoming the police chief of the Sahuarita Police Department in 1996. He was fired by Sahuarita's town manager in December after a letter Holloway wrote was published in the Green Valley News & Sun, in violation of the manager's orders not to write letters to the editor

"I'm still in touch with a number of people over there, and from what I'm hearing, this guy (Smith) is just ruining the department. You can't treat people like that and expect them to do there jobs. The reality of the situation is, it's just too easy for officers to go out and park in a hide away place rather than do real police work when they're that unhappy," Holloway said.

Lynn Radcliffe, who became Marana's first police chief in 1985, was fired by the town council in 1991 after it was found that he had falsified his job application.

He said the charge was distorted and admits he still holds some animosity toward the town, but still maintains friendship with some of the MPD veterans and an abiding interest in the department he feels he helped create.

After speaking with Marana officers about the turmoil in the MPD, Radcliffe sent word that he too wanted to be interviewed.

"There was too much blood, sweat, tears, effort, joy and pain expended by too many people over the years that went into building the department for Smith to just throw it all away," Radcliffe said. "These are police officers, they put their lives on the line for the community, and they damn well deserve better than what they're getting."

EXIT INTERVIEWS

Beginning in December 1999, Marana's human resources department consistently began conducting exit interviews of all employees leaving the town's employment. Human Resources Director Jane Howell said before that date, her small staff was only able to interview a small percentage of departing employees, and police officers were hard to schedule for interviews because of their varied work schedules.

The written and taped interviews included questions such as "What do you like least about your job?" and "Why are you really leaving?" The answers were recorded by human resources employees.

Copies of the MPD exit interviews conducted between January 1997 and June 2002 obtained from the town included the following comments, all from different employees:

Unprofessional supervisors doing things that get swept under the rug by (Marana Police Chief) Dave Smith, who is a poor example as a leader."

"Blatant policy violations brought to attention and ignored."

"Concern over chief's outbursts - not professional."

"Officers aren't supported or rewarded for doing their jobs."

"Dissatisfied with low morale, feel it stems from the chief. The town and department have outgrown him."

"Would stay if there was more accountability in department."

"I would have continued working for Marana had I not felt discriminated against, harassed and threatened."

EMPLOYEE SATISFACTION SURVEY

In February 2000, Marana commissioned its first - and so far, only - survey of employee satisfaction in the Marana Police Department.

The result of the survey, which involved MPD employees anonymously filling out questionnaires and mailing them to a post office box, was overwhelmingly critical of Chief David R. Smith and his management of the department.

Town Manager Mike Hein dismissed the survey as being skewed by "ballot stuffing," saying he believed a handful of disgruntled employees may have been returning multiple questionnaires that were critical of Smith.

The graduate student from the University of Arizona's College of Business and Public Administration specifically hired by the town to conduct the survey said he was confident no "ballot stuffing" had occurred.

According to a summary of the survey obtained from the town, individual responses included:

"PD is suffering; afraid to talk."

"Some employees are shown special treatment in the police department."

"Low morale within PD. No support from department head. Town needs to seriously look at the job the chief is doing. There isn't a lot of employees of the department (who) feel he is supportive and being the (leader) he should be. Majority opinion."

"Job would be very satisfactory if town management would take into consideration the the wide variety of complaints against PD chief."

"PD head is a major liability. He has no respect for employees. He is hostile, vulgar, unprofessional and embraces favoritism. (Human Resources)

"PD chief causes department issues, not the pay."

"Morale at an all time low. Pay is the only thing that keeps officers here. (Human Resources Department) does not want to hear our problems."

"All employees should abide by the same policies- not have them 'altered' because chief says so. Hiring process should be the same for everyone…"

"Chief has lost (the) respect of the department. Unfairness in department. Officers and supervisors being mistreated.

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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