THE CHIEF: THE COPS HAVE SPOKEN, NO ONE LISTENING - The Explorer: Import

THE CHIEF: THE COPS HAVE SPOKEN, NO ONE LISTENING

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Posted: Tuesday, August 13, 2002 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Over the years, Marana Police Department employees say they have tried a number of ways to call attention to the problems they say seethe within the MPD under Chief David R. Smith's command, and only rarely have their voices been heard.

Most of the MPD officers, supervisors and civilian employees interviewed for this series said that going directly to Marana Town Manager Mike Hein or the Marana Town Council would invite retaliation by Smith.

The employees say that's why, in the past, they have relied on indirect methods for calling attention to their plight.

The sheer number of critical responses logged in an employee satisfaction survey released by the town in February 2000, and the vehement wording of the complaints, was thought by many of the employees to be a sure bet for drawing some type of inquiry or follow up to the accusations against Smith that included dishonesty, favoritism, belligerency and incompetence.

Instead, Hein dismissed the survey as a handful of disgruntled employees filing multiple responses.

"That was the worst blow to what was already low morale in the department," said one MPD employee. "We had the town's administration essentially questioning the honesty of their own officers."

A slew of resignation letters and indignant exit interviews from departing employees followed the survey, many of them voicing the same type of complaints found in the survey, including the common refrain about the department's declining morale and the increasing amount of officers leaving for other jobs.

Shortly before he resigned from the department in September 2000, Lt. Richard Salazar commissioned his own "internal survey" of problems in the MPD.

Salazar dispatched officer Lanell Garbini to talk to her fellow officers and compile a report of their responses.

Salazar and Garbini both declined to comment for this story.

The report was obtained from a currently employed MPD source and was verified as authentic by MPD spokesman Sgt. Richard Vidaurri, summarized and gave clarity to much of what had been communicated in the survey, resignation letters and exit interviews.

Several of the employees said it's one of the best and most succinct explanations of what they claim are the troubles that still haunt the MPD today. Some of the responses include:

"There is a lack of mutual respect be-tween the administration and line staff. Officers fear administration and administration feels that officers are unprofessional and incompetent. All officers this author spoke to felt this way."

"An officer's ability to make sound decisions in reference to the safety of the public, fellow officers and themselves is muddied by the current fear of reprisals for actions that may or not be viewed as 'acceptable' by the administration."

"The huge liability incurred due to lack of quality provided by the department."

"The perception (is) that the administration places 'public image' or 'financial savings' ahead of officer welfare and safety … "

"The perception (is) that the administration will not stand behind their officers when involved in critical incidents, even if actions are justifiable."

"The perception (is) that a select group of officers who embarrass and pose a liability to the department are not dealt with effectively by line supervisors …"

"The perception (is) that supervisors are not given the authority by administration or are unable to supervise and make their own decisions …"

"The department will be unable to retain qualified, dedicated professionals due to these perceptions. Most officers this author spoke with have plans to go elsewhere at some point."

Vidaurri stressed that the survey was intended for use only by Salazar, who was in charge of the department's patrol division at the time Garbini spoke to her fellow officers. Vidaurri said he did not believe any specific actions or changes resulted from the survey, although Smith had seen a copy of it.

"Somehow the chief did obtain a copy, although it was intended for informal use by Salazar," Vidaurri said.

More recently, the Northwest EXPLORER played an indirect role in the commissioning of another survey - albeit one that resulted in totally different responses.

On Nov. 15, a month and a half before the EXPLORER published an in-depth investigation of Smith's and the department's involvement with the now defunct New West/Gotham Nightclub, Smith sent a memo to his three lieutenants noting that he had heard about the newspaper's investigation and he was concerned about it.

"I am concerned by the assertions of the reporter that the administration approached on numerous occasions about deteriorating morale and the administration has not reacted. Please prepare a written report to me (sic) by Friday Nov. 30, 2001 reviewing the areas under your command regarding morale and any specific causes of any deteriorating of morale," Smith wrote.

Copies of the memo were also sent to Hein and the town council.

All three lieutenants, Joe Carrasco, Dale Bradshaw and Bruce Thomas, responded that essentially, there was no problem.

"In response to your memo regarding morale within my division, I am not aware of any specific causes of deterioration of morale," wrote Thomas, who oversaw the MPD's support division until his resignation last month.

"I am open to all issues and concerns of our employees," wrote Carrasco, MPD's patrol division commander. "The nature of the issues brought to my attention have not necessitated the involvement of the office of the chief of police. The issues have been addressed, resolved and do not require further attention."

Bradshaw, who runs the administrative division, gave a similarly worded response.

Despite the fact that Smith forbids all of his employees except designated department spokespersons from talking to the media, one of the three lieutenants agreed to meet with the EXPLORER.

In keeping with Smith's regulation of not speaking to the media, the lieutenant simply nodded his head yes when he was asked by a reporter if he was told by Smith what to write in the memo.

Some of the officers and civilian employees interviewed for this series said many of the rank and file were pinning their hopes for change on a new accreditation the department received earlier this year.

The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, or CALEA, awarded the MPD its stamp of approval in March.

The accreditation requires the MPD to maintain a set standard of policies and performance targets developed by some of the country's top law enforcement experts.

Although many of the officers say the new standards instituted in the department by CALEA certification have brought some consistency to the MPD's operation, others question the price that was paid, and wonder if the policies will be adhered to.

Some officers complain that the more than $16,000 Marana paid for the CALEA preparation and certification was drawn from the MPD's own training budget, at a time when many feel that they are not receiving enough training.

Marana Finance Director Roy Cuaron confirmed the CALEA cost was paid for from the training budget, which he estimated totaled $26,000 for last year.

The accreditation had other unintended effects on the department, such as the disbanding of the Emergency Response Team, which conducted high-risk, SWAT-like operations.

"We have been without the ERT for a little more than a year now," said Vidaurri, who led the implementation of the CALEA standards in the department. "It basically came down to the fact that we couldn't get the ERT up to the standards require by CALEA."

Another hope mentioned by many officers was that the still powerless police union will grow into a position to help effect change in the department.

The Marana Police Officers' Association, an affiliate of the statewide Arizona Conference of Officers, Police and Sheriffs, was formed two years ago and now represents more than half the patrol officers in the department.

Terry Evans, a veteran MPD officer and president of the Marana Police Officer's Association, said the union is slowly gaining strength and he believes it has gained recognition by the town's administration.

"Chief Smith has said 'I'll talk to you on whatever issues you think you have, or don't have' and that's all that we can really ask," Evans said. "I know (a union is) something that has never happened in Marana, and like anything else, if there's change, there's bound to be a little opposition to it. I haven't received any yet, because I don't know if they believe that we can even pull that off. But we're certainly going to try and pull it off."

Evans said the union, which has not established any contract with Marana, or even any formal collective bargaining powers with the town, has not considered holding a vote of "confidence or no confidence" of Smith.

"No, we've never even discussed it. It's always something that could happen, I guess, down the line if we needed to do something like that, but it's never been discussed, it's not anything that we've spent any time on. To be quite frank with you, I wouldn't even know how to exactly go about doing it," Evans said.

While conceding that issues such as morale, discipline and training in the MPD are union issues, Evans flatly refused to discuss them.

"I won't talk with you about some of the issues, because I have to work, I have to keep my job, I have to have a job," he said.

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

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