An outside look is needed | IN OUR OPINION
June 15, 2012 · 8:36 AM
City of Bainbridge Island officials announced Wednesday they will hire an outside investigator to look into allegations made by the city’s police union against Police Chief Jon Fehlman.
The investigation is not only warranted, but a critical necessity.
The Bainbridge Island Police Guild has presented an extensive list of allegations and claims, and they deserve to be reviewed and thoroughly examined by an independent and impartial party — outside of Bainbridge city government.
The guild’s claims are extensive. Union officials, led by Lt. Bob Day, say Fehlman has “made poor management decisions and shown a lack of leadership.” The union also alleges that the chief, who took over in 2009, has violated department and city policy, as well as state law.
The latter are the most serious of the charges and deserve the most attention by an outside investigator. Other concerns that revolve around a chief’s leadership style, his personal approach to management issues, or connectedness to the community are inherently subjective and views on Fehlman’s attributes there will likely vary among police officers and members of the community.
That said, the guild’s complaints, though lengthy, are stunning in their lack of detail. Names of those who witnessed the alleged incidents, the dates of the incidents, and the sheer vagueness of some of the allegations raise innumerable questions.
The timing of the guild’s complaint is also curious, as some of the claims date back to 2009. Were these incidents reported years ago, at the time they supposedly occurred? Were whistle-blower complaints filed? If not, why not?
And why, now, for the complaint, when the chief is on medical leave and is physically unable to respond to the litany of charges?
As the public considers the allegations made this week, and the guild’s assertion that the reputation of the police department has been damaged by “Chief Fehlman’s errors,” as Day’s letter to the mayor concludes, we should remember two important points.
The chief is ultimately responsible for the morale of his officers and the operation of the police department.
Reputations are earned. Bainbridge citizens will also judge this department not only by the actions of its chief, but by the actions of the officers themselves; past, present and future.