News

Outside review of Bainbridge Island Police Department notes cases of insubordination, refusal to work, lack of leadership by department lieutenants

An outside review of the Bainbridge Island Police Department said the department has been subject to a "regular state of turmoil" in recent years that has led to incidents of insubordination within the ranks of officers.

A lack of leadership at the lieutenant level — and the changes made by the department's last chief — were largely to blame, according to the report.

Lt. Bob Day, the president of the Bainbridge Island Police Guild, could not be immediately reached for comment. City Manager Doug Schulze did also not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The expert analysis of the department follows a year of upheaval within the Bainbridge department. Jon Fehlman resigned as chief late last year after an investigation into alleged wrongdoings that was prompted by the city's police union, and Fehlman's second-in-command quit in December after two female officers in the department raised claims of gender discrimination. And throughout much of last year, the department made headlines throughout the region for a federal civil rights trial that followed the fatal police shooting of a mentally ill Bainbridge Island man.

The report was highly critical of the lack of administrative oversight within the Bainbridge police department and weak leadership at the lieutenant level.

The assessment said lieutenants helped create a climate of a lack of discipline within the department, and added that line officers also had a poor view of their supervisors.

"Lieutenants in the department are universally perceived as a hindrance to department growth and unity. Officers and lieutenants report that there are flagrant incidents of insubordination that go unchecked," the report said.

The authors of the report said it was unclear, however, "if this is a symptom of a flawed and deteriorative culture or reinforced behavior caused by lieutenants either not doing, or selectively doing, their jobs."

The outcome, according to the report, "is an undisciplined and apathetic organization that does not respect the hierarchical nature required of high performing police agencies."

The report noted several examples that pointed to "a lack of discipline in the agency, confidence and competence of the lieutenants."

The incidents included:

"An officer refusing to utilize their in-car computer and gave the lieutenant the reason as he did not want the Department to be able to see their location;

An officer refusing to respond to a radio call because they didn’t feel like dealing with the call;

An officer flatly refusing to conduct a task assigned by a lieutenant, and the lieutenant doing nothing about it; [and]

Many officers being allowed time off around the holidays resulting in staffing levels being reduced to one officer and creating a crisis by forcing other officers to hold over on their shift, or trying to find others to work, during the holidays."

The assessment noted that first-line supervisors such as Bainbridge's four lieutenants were the "front line of management" that were crucial not only for the day-to-day operations of the department, but also for the effect they have on the public trust.

"In each of the incidents the lieutenant either refused to act, or allowed the behavior, to occur in the company of or with the knowledge of other officers," the report said.

The comprehensive look inside the embattled department was conducted by the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs, and was conducted at the city council's request.

The association submitted its 43-page report to the city March 4.

Four law enforcement professionals — Ron Cameron, chief criminal deputy for the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office; Kay Pownall, police administrative supervisor for the Port Townsend Police Department; Joe Upton, administrative commander for the Lacey Police Department; and Michael Painter, director of professional services for the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs — prepared the assessment after visiting the Bainbridge department and interviewing officers and employees.

The report noted that the problems with the department's lieutenants extended to such areas such as scheduling shifts for officers and the relationship between line officers and their supervisors.

The assessment said that officer scheduling was, at times, "very lax."

"At times only one officer has been scheduled with no supervisor catching the low staffing level until the shift actually begins," the report said. "This is reportedly caused by lieutenants granting vacation days without backfilling minimum staffing shortages."

The assessment team noted that problem could be overcome by lieutenants denying vacation requests that would result in overtime.

"However, it is reported that several lieutenants refuse to deny vacation days regardless of impact to the organization. This emphasizes a lack of will by some lieutenants to live up to their responsibilities and points to a glaring problem that emerged during the previous administration," the report said.

The report criticized Fehlman for stripping the lieutenants of their decision-making authority during his time as chief.

The move to remove change their responsibilities "created confusion, cynicism, apathy and inconsistency within the agency," the report said, and noted that it was a devastating blow to the confidence of the lieutenants.

There was another drawback for the department, as well.

The  report said the consolidation of responsibilities within the chief's office and with his commander had a "profound effect" — it made the lieutenants identify more strongly with their roles as union members, as opposed to being part of the department's management team.

"In fairness the lieutenants have been pulled in many different directions and responsibilities taken away and restored several times over the past five years," the report said.

Still, the report said the lack of leadership from the lieutenants was hurting the department.

The authors of the study noted they "experienced a general feeling that line officers lacked confidence in the lieutenants.

"This feeling may be due to the issues of leadership that have occurred in past administrations where the previous chief stripped lieutenants of decision-making authority. As a result, the entire group of first line supervisors has become less effective and is viewed as a fractured group who are highly inconsistent in their approach to patrol operations. Lack of engagement is haunting most of the lieutenants and will clearly hold the department down as everyone else wants to move forward," the report said.

In their recommendations, the review team said the department needed to "make an investment in the lieutenant rank. Lines of communication need to be opened and both mentoring and accountability need to underpin performance expectations.

Otherwise, response to all levels of calls by officers will continue to tarnish BIPD’s level of trust and confidence within the community."

The assessment was the most thorough review of the department in recent years.

It also covered administrative standards, the use of force, management and staffing, investigations, evidence handling, prisoner security, training, records management, patrol functions and other issues.

 

 

 

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

Read the latest Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Jul 25 edition online now. Browse the archives.