Category Archives: Public Safety
Posts relating directly to the Sterling Heights Police and Fire departments.
This evening I was given the opportunity to attend the Sterling Heights Police Department’s Active Assailant Training for Civilians program at St. Blasé Catholic Church on 15 Mile Road via my involvement in the city’s CERT program. It was three hours of high quality information that your community or church group, fellow employees, and child’s teachers need to see in these uncertain times.
Hosted by the department’s internal training bureau consisting of Sergeant Mark Schmidt, Officer Andy Pawlik and Officer Jassin Hakim, the presentation went into gritty detail about the realities of suddenly being faced by a violent, gun wielding criminal bent on killing as many people as possible. The veteran police officers making the presentation gave solid, actionable strategies for how you should react to that situation. Using recent news events — including things that happened this very week — as the backdrop, the officers making the presentation drove home the idea that if you encounter such a scenario, your very life depends on what you do next. And they made the point that what most people naturally do next — freezing up — gets them killed. Their goal in giving the presentation? Getting the attendees to change their mindset, quickly recognize the situation for what it is, and then take positive action to either escape, hold off or stop the killer until the police can arrive. They also included some very important cautionary information for concealed pistol license holders that I think should be printed on the back of every CPL card about what will happen if they are observed at an active crime scene with a weapon visible.
I was impressed by what I saw tonight, as were the roughly 100 other people in attendance. In the past I was forced to take some pretty substandard training on active shooter events by a previous employer, and I can tell you that this presentation was by far and away better. It was more realistic, it gave more likely sounding advice, and it better put the emphasis on where it really needs to be: you have to save yourself!
In the decade that I have been acquainted with and have worked with Sterling Heights’ public safety departments I have always been more than satisfied by the level of professionalism and skill that our police and fire fighters bring to the job. So I went into this presentation this evening with high hopes and expectations for what I would see. All of my expectations were exceeded. We truly have some talented police officers working in that training department, and it really showed. I have to give special kudos to Officer Pawlik, who gave the bulk of the presentation: he brought an enormous amount of passion, knowledge and energy to this event, and in the future I will not be the least bit surprised to find out that the information he gave tonight has wound up saving the life of someone who attended.
If Sterling Heights church leaders, business owners and business managers demonstrate an interest in having more opportunities to receive this training, I believe the department will endeavor to deliver it. It is intended for groups, rather than individuals, and it may be offered again sometime over the winter of 2016/17. Follow the link above to the City of Sterling Heights website for more information on when the program might be offered again.
Are you a resident of Sterling Heights who is not a member of a group like this but wants these sort of training opportunities? May I suggest that you strongly consider joining the Sterling Heights CERT? We are looking for able bodied men and women willing to invest their time and effort in training to help their fellow residents during natural disasters or large scale events. You must be an adult over 18 years of age and be able to pass a criminal background check. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested.
I’m going to try a new occasional feature: a quick gathering up of news, rumors and photos from events surrounding Sterling Heights politics. N.B. I am not a professional news reporter; if factual errors come to light I will correct them. I’m not looking to create scandals or publish completely unsubstantiated rumors, but it would be great if my readers would send me things they would like to see published, attributed or not. Send me your tips, cell phone photos or videos, and I will consider them for possible inclusion in future posts.
- Unconfirmed Rumor: Paul Smith filed the paperwork to become a candidate for Mayor of Sterling Heights on the day Mayor Notte announced he is taking a leave of absence to undergo treatment for cancer…
- National Night Out on Tuesday, 5-AUG-2014 was a success. Sterling Heights CERT received the names of several new recruits; Sterling Heights COPS members were there in force as well.
- The group petitioning to place the new LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance on the November ballot submitted 6,050 signatures to the City Clerk’s office on Wednesday. The Clerk’s office has 10 days to count and verify those signatures, during which the group can continue to collect more signatures. If signatures are found to be invalid, the group has 15 days to make up any shortfall.
- Meanwhile, police were called multiple times to resolve arguments in front of the public library between the petition signature-gatherers and protesters…
Tips and/or corrections to email@example.com….
I am writing to encourage you to vote ‘YES’ on the proposed public safety and roads millage issue on the ballot November 5. My support for this comes with some hesitation but a lot of thought. I believe the city has made the case for the additional tax.
Quite simply, the alternative is awful. The city has a contingency plan in place should the millage fail. That plan will needlessly increase the everyday risk that residents face of losing property to a fire, dying of a sudden illness, or becoming victim to criminals. The shut-down of Fire Station #4 will increase the response time to unacceptable levels in the southeastern part of the city. The partial shut-down of Fire Station #5 will at times make the response time in the northwestern part of the city equally unacceptable.
And that doesn’t really consider the matter of the police.
Back in 2006, when I took the Citizen’s Police Academy, one of the statistics I learned was that Sterling Heights is actually operating with fewer police officers per 1,000 residents than most cities of its size. Being that response times were generally very good and crime relatively low, the police brass was satisfied that they were delivering adequate policing, owing in no small part to the fact that their officers were rather well paid, and thus were in the upper echelons of the available labor pool.
That was seven years ago. As you know, the economic times have changed, and not exactly for the better.
Laying off 40 cops may not seem like a big deal, but it is going to compromise the coverage the department can muster. Policing is something that has to be done continually; there is no “making an area safe” and then sitting back to reap the rewards. As most ads for stock brokerage houses say, “past performance is no guarantee of future results.”
One thing I remember vividly from the Police Academy was Captain Frank Mowinski (retired) describing how the police work to prevent crime. Cpt. Mowinski had a gift for humor which made some of the things he said especially memorable.
To paraphrase, he said “you see, Clinton Township, Shelby Township, Warren, Troy…they’re all working hard to get their criminals out of town by pushing them to cross their city borders and leave. The ones that come here? We’re working hard to push ’em back!”
Reducing if not completely eliminating the traffic division and cutting back on investigations of all but the most serious crimes is going to hurt our ability as a city to withstand the increasing lawlessness in our society. With the collapse of the City of Detroit’s government and a highly unstable economy, relying too heavily on luck to keep the crime rate here low doesn’t seem like a safe bet. We’re going to start losing the race to “push ’em back.”
Intelligent, conservative people like myself may argue that it is up to the city to live within its means, that taxation is burdensome to everyone, especially elderly residents living on fixed incomes, and that the city does, after all, have some of the best paid police and fire staff in the state. All of these things are true. (I have found, however, that some of the claims of ridiculously excessive wages paid to public safety employees are highly inflated and taken out of context, reflecting ignorance of federal tax law on the part of the people making the claim.)
Unfortunately, the city’s means are no longer sufficient. They shrank dramatically in 2008, and although they show tentative signs of recovery, they will not recover completely until the 2020s — if all goes well, which is hardly assured in this time of a federal government shutdown. In fact, our economy is probably at greater risk of collapse today than it was in 2008. The very real prospect of a federal government default should be viewed like storm clouds on a hot day in July.
The city has spent down its savings. But it has also made a serious effort to reduce costs — and spurred Public Act 312 arbitration in the process. There are no further reductions of public safety salaries legally possible. The only thing the city can do now is lay off massive numbers of people.
In the meantime, the vehicles our city employees drive around in are seriously dilapidated and many, in my very conservative view on vehicle condition, are unsafe. The computers on the desks of city employees are antiquated, and most use an operating system for which the vendor has long ago announced it is cancelling ongoing support. By this time next year, our city could very well fall prey to cyber criminals due to unpatched operating system exploits. There are similar warts and bandages applied in every aspect of our city government. I have toured most of the buildings. I have seen the unavoidable deterioration with my own eyes.
Although some will argue that the last of the savings have not yet been wrung out of the city budget, my experience in interacting with city employees, being part of the CERT team, and in talking with our elected officials as well as the Fire Chief is that the operation is nearing a breaking point.
If you are a true, small government, Tea Party conservative who resents taxation, unions, professional fire departments and the rule of law, don’t vote for the millage. I believe you will be shocked at the results if your side carries the day, but by all means vote your conscience. If you number yourself among these folks, I respectfully disagree with you on philosophical terms, but I also respect your right to your opinion.
If, on the other hand, you try to take an objective view that is informed by a conservative philosophy as I am, I think the reasonable conclusion is that the city government has made its case. The collective investment we have in the city needs further support to remain viable, and our personal quality of life will not be too dramatically impacted by a 2.5 mil increase. If you are concerned about public unions reverting back “to the good old days” of high benefits and even higher wages, don’t be — this millage won’t support that kind of spendthrift behavior. Even with the millage, which will sunset in six years, incidentally, there won’t be enough revenue brought in to do anything but maintain things at the current level.
As far as the roads portion of the millage is concerned — again, in my opinion, as most things here are, the roads are already in abominable shape. My own driveway apron has been rendered difficult to negotiate by broken concrete in the street which has caused the driveway to seemingly “sink”. Most residential streets in town are in equally bad shape.
I am a very tough sell on tax increases. As many might know, this website arose in no small part from my opposition to the last tax increase, and I still resent the way it was enacted. Before coming to the conclusion that I have on this, I reached out to a significant number of people within our city government to make sure I understood why it was being proposed and what the stakes are if it fails. I think I asked some tough questions. I know that I got some honest, heartfelt answers, both from people in charge as well as people who answer to them. I have spent a considerable amount of time on this.
It is my carefully considered opinion that this tax increase needs to happen. Vote ‘yes’ on November 5th.
Do you agree? Head on over to our poll and cast your vote!
If, like me, you’re interested in the future direction of Sterling Heights, I suggest you respond to a city-wide survey being taken this month.
With the official tally set to take place on or after December 14, the survey is designed to get resident input on various city departments and services. This input will presumably be used to help set the city’s direction in the 2013/2014 budgetary process, and it will also be used as a justification to add a measure to the ballot to raise taxes to help finance the city’s public safety services.
Although the survey is being sent out via email and postal mail to what the city determines is a statistically significant sample of the residents, anyone can opt to take the survey by visiting the link below.
Other than showing up for City Council meetings and speaking your part, or contacting your representatives on council directly, this survey is one of the best ways to make your feelings known about the performance of departments within the city, and what their priorities should be. I strongly recommend you take this survey.
Up for discussion at the November 20, 2012 City Council meeting will be agenda item #4: Consider Approval of Agreement, Regional Emergency Dispatch Services. With very few, if any, drawbacks, this is an idea whose time has come.
Since this idea first surfaced months ago, I have been skeptical about the benefits that transitioning to a regional emergency dispatch would provide. Sure, the cost savings could be demonstrated on paper, but what would we lose in the process? Would city residents really be as well served by a dispatch center outside of the city limits as it currently is? And what would this mean for the people who are doing the job today? Would we be relegating them to the unemployment line?
All of these concerns are addressed by the proposed agreement with the county. At minimum, sixteen of the current city-employed dispatchers (just about all of them who aren’t planning to retire) will be rehired by the county to staff the new regional dispatch, and the agreement is that those folks will at first be assigned to working on Sterling Heights-related calls. Eventually, they will be cross-trained to handle calls for all participating communities. It’s hard to imagine that moving the current dispatchers and most of their equipment to a different building a few miles away will negatively impact service for residents.
In addition, the people working for the local dispatch center will see some new opportunities open up in their careers. The county provides more opportunities for advancement than the city does, simply because it governs a larger area. As the report by the fire and police chiefs notes, their fringe benefits would be better as well.
My conclusion is that this agreement is a win-win situation for both the county and the residents of Sterling Heights. City Council should approve this measure.
On 05-SEP, Sterling Heights CERT participated in a SWAT training exercise with three different scenarios. I had the opportunity to view the officers in action firsthand, and I’m impressed with what I saw.
The training was a joint venture between the Warren and Sterling Heights Police Departments, and it took place at the Cinemark theater located at Universal Mall in Warren. 21 Sterling Heights CERT team members were on hand along with approximately the same number of Warren CERT team members to play the role of victims in an “active shooter” scenario conducted in a darkened movie theater.
The SWAT team members’ objective was to find and arrest the shooter and then help to triage and evacuate the victims. There were enough volunteer victims around to create a seriously chaotic set of circumstances for the officers, who went into the scenario knowing as little as possible beforehand.
In one of the scenarios, we were asked to run in a panic out of the theater into the mall as the Sterling Heights SWAT team entered the building. Coincidentally, I happened to match the description of the off-duty police officer who was playing the role of the shooter (yellow shirt and goatee), and as I ran past the officers streaming into the lobby, they grabbed me and detained me outside until they were able to ascertain that I wasn’t the person they were looking for.
Let me tell you, I’ve got a newfound respect for SWAT teams. Having never been in trouble with the law, I’ve never considered what it might be like to find myself face-down on the floor with my hands behind my back, as a police officer kneels beside me, making sure I don’t make any move to get away. Even though I knew it was a simulation and I wasn’t going to jail, I wasn’t expecting to be grabbed and detained, and I could feel my stress level go into the stratosphere when they ordered me down on the floor and put my hands behind my back. Much to my amusement, one of my fellow CERT members, Dianne Thiel, claimed to officers to be my wife, and continuing with what was some very serious role-play, she was ordered to stand back. And when I say I was grabbed, I mean it; someone caught hold of my t-shirt and it tore a bit, and suddenly I looked like one of the perps on Cops.
I must say the officers showed a great deal of restraint-I was ordered down when I could have been thrown down, and after only a few minutes was told I could relax and not have my arms behind my back any longer. You could tell the men were working on pure adrenalin, and because I looked just a little bit like who they were looking for, they took no chances. So I am impressed with how carefully I was actually treated and how quickly they reacted to seeing somebody who might have been the scenario’s “shooter”. The actual guy they were looking for — a big, muscular cop who works for the Warren department — thought it was funny they had mistaken me for him. I guess it was!
In another scenario, we were asked to meet at the site of an abandoned restaurant to which the Warren Police had access. The story was that a distraught boyfriend (the same shooter from the theater) had chosen to confront his cheating girlfriend with a gun at the former Bill Knapps restaurant on 12 Mile. The “girlfriend” was our CERT team’s Sin Ng, and the rest of the hostages were a combination of members from the two CERT teams. We got to watch first hand as the hostage negotiation team worked over a dedicated-line telephone to talk the gunman down peacefully, a process which took over an hour.
There were problems that arose during the two of the scenarios that I participated in. In the movie-theater shooter scenario, several SWAT team members looked directly at their targeted assailant and failed to realize he was their man. In the hostage negotiation scenario, there was an initial communications problem with the telephone setup they were using to negotiate with the gunman. These problems added an element of realism and made what was already a stressful situation even more so for the police officers, but they reacted as well as possible. As one of the officers commented, the guys who didn’t identify the shooter in the movie theater scenario won’t ever make that mistake again — which is fortunate, since if it happened in real life they would have been shot.
All in all, it was a fascinating day, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching these guys at work and being able to participate in their training to help make Sterling Heights a safer place to live. The police do not have an easy job, and an active shooter in a darkened movie theater is a nightmare scenario for them. It is good to see they have had some practice in case it ever happens for real. As for me, I think I’ll wear my “Sterling Heights Police” t-shirt the next time I participate in one of these exercises. Size XL, fellas…
A recent FOIA request by a local attorney has resulted in the release of 2011’s gross pay information for all sworn Sterling Heights Police Officers and Fire Fighters. I have received a copy of the data to do with it what I will, and naturally I feel that it is of interest to readers of this blog. In this post I am concentrating on the information regarding the Police Department; Fire Department information will come in another post.
Confidentiality: I am treating the information regarding individuals as confidential. I have no interest in revealing who makes what, as I think it is divisive and contrary to the goal of having a smooth running police department. As residents, however, it is important to understand what drives the costs of policing our community. Having a first rate police department requires having well paid individuals working there, which is something most people probably realize. However, a look at some of the statistics may reveal the reasons why the city is now headed toward a vote on a public safety millage sometime in 2013.
About the numbers: these are gross pay statistics. The numbers from the FOIA document show what each officer earned before taxes, and not what their take-home pay was. The gross wage figures also include overtime and any longevity pay, shift premiums, etc. Although the numbers may seem high depending on your own salary, remember that in the big picture these men and women are not becoming wealthy, as I can attest with my own personal salary being somewhere in the middle of these numbers. I think it’s also important to remember that everyone on the force operates with a higher risk of losing their life on the job than most people, something that weighs on their minds each and every day.
Gross Pay Overall
Overall, police officers in Sterling Heights earn a solid income. No sworn police officer grossed less than $60,000 last year. The top paid officers earned slightly in excess of $140,000.
I’ve broken down the gross pay numbers into what I’ll call “$10K segments”. 2 Officers earned over $140,000. 7 earned between $130,000 and $140,000. 10 earned between $120K and $130K. 22 earned between $110K and $120K, and another 22 earned between $100,000 and $110,000. 46 (the largest segment) earned between $90,000 and $100,000. 30 earned between $80,000 and $90,000, 12 earned between $70,000 and $80,000, and 3 earned between $60,000 and $70,000. Nobody earned less than $60,000, or in excess of $150,000.
In summary, the average gross pay for 2011 was $99,396.68. The median pay was $96,333.26. Officers with female first names averaged $92,769.29, while male officers averaged $100,165.07 (two officer first names are gender-ambiguous). The average Command (supervisory) Officer grossed approximately $120,100.58, while the average Police (regular cop) Officer gross pay was around $93,307.30.
Pay vs. Rank
There are several different ranks within the department. In addition, there are “rank modifiers” which impact officer pay according to how much post-secondary education he or she has. An officer who has a Masters degree from an accredited university theoretically can earn more than one with an Associate degree. However, the actual gross numbers don’t always reflect the idea of higher educational achievement equaling higher pay, probably due to overtime, longevity pay, and shift premiums. Here is the breakdown for 2011 of average gross pay numbers:
I’m terming the bottom three categories as ‘undefined’ with respect to averages. With just one officer in each category, posting an ‘average pay’ is the equivalent of posting the pay of three individuals, contrary to my goal of not revealing any individual salaries. If you must know, file a FOIA of your own.
A graphical look at this data shows there are a couple of “sweet spots” where the pay is higher than intuition might suggest. Being a Sergeant with an Associate’s degree seems to work out a little better than being a Sergeant with a Bachelor’s degree. Similarly, Lieutenants seemingly out-earn Lieutenants with Bachelor degrees. Strangely, Patrol Officers with Associate degrees do better than those either with a Bachelor degree or with no degree at all.
Labor Cost By Division
It was possible to deduce which department division each employee worked for in the FOIA data. Here is a look at the labor cost of each division:
The lion’s share of the work effort and pay goes to the Operations Division, which is the one that puts cars on the road in response to 911 calls, performs regular patrols, and performs traffic enforcement. Note that these numbers do not include dispatch (except for the command officer), as they are not sworn Police Officers.
A graphical look at the data above reveals the difference in scale between the divisions. By far, the largest amount of money goes to pay the officers who are out in public.
Male Officers vs. Female Officers
In general, the female officers are better educated than the males, but there are far fewer of them, and none have risen above the rank of Sergeant. The most senior officers are all male, and the highest educational achievements go to males with two holding Masters degrees.
Reflecting the same trends found in virtually every industry, on average the males out-earn the females by a significant amount. Remember this is skewed heavily by the much smaller number of females, and the lower rank achievements of females overall.
The numbers speak for themselves, and everyone will have a slightly different subjective interpretation of how well police officers are paid in Sterling Heights compared to their own salary. I don’t have accurate comparative data to other cities, nor do I have strong opinions on what a police officer’s salary should be. After quite a bit of reflection, I personally wouldn’t do the job for what the best paid officer makes given the risks, and I probably am poorly suited for the job anyway.
Male vs. female pay and rank data is interesting but not conclusive. There are a myriad of factors which impact individual achievements, and the fact that very few female police officers are on the job skews the numbers heavily.
There is a substantial amount of money expended in Sterling Heights on these men and women’s paychecks, and that amount of money is becoming a problem for the city’s budget. The contracts for both the command officers as well as the regular patrol officers are currently up in the air, and it looks like both will be decided by an arbitrator under Public Act 312. These numbers could look vastly different for the 2012 calendar year, or they could remain roughly the same. If they do remain roughly the same, you can count on a new tax measure being placed on the 2013 ballot.
In my meetings with Sterling Heights Police, I have never failed to be impressed by the professionalism and kindness they have shown me. I’m sure there are good and bad, and I’m sure that my opinion would be different if I wasn’t law abiding! That said, whether market economics dictates their salaries are too high or too low, or just about right, I wouldn’t begrudge any of them their paycheck. Whether the city can afford those paychecks, however, remains to be seen.
As the result of a number of private conversations I have had and correspondence that has been sent to me anonymously, I have been able to discern a subtle but important difference between the official version that has been publicly stated and what people who work within the department saw with regard to the time card scandal.
I have waited a considerable period of time since learning of what really happened in order to confirm the story, and to wait for the official version to become complete. With Chief Reese’s testimony before Council last night, the official version is now complete, and I have been told by several different people that my understanding of what happened more closely matches what happened.
Two different types of time card ‘falsification’ took place. In this post, I will attempt to explain the two types, and why I feel one does not equate to the other legally or ethically.
The first type was known by some inside the department as “slide time”: shift leaders would let their subordinates leave a few minutes early on occasion as a small reward for good performance. This practice was fairly widespread and involved a very small amount of time overall, sometimes half an hour and usually less.
So-called “slide time” was not a conspiracy to defraud the city. It was a small perk, which promoted good morale within the department. I have personally held jobs where the boss would occasionally “cut us loose” half an hour early on a sunny Friday afternoon, as have many people. I would still get paid for the full working day. As a matter of fact, my current employer has an official policy and tradition of granting “slide time” on Christmas Eve: everyone works a half day but gets paid for a full day.
A second form of falsification, which I will call “walk-away” time, involved a more concerted, malicious, and deliberate effort to defraud the city. Senior ranking officers following this practice would leave their squad cars parked outside the Police HQ building with the in-vehicle computer logged in, and walk away. They would not tell dispatch that they were actually going off-duty. They would sometimes leave several hours before their shift was scheduled to end. Another senior officer would wait until the shift was at its scheduled end, then walk outside and log the in-vehicle computer off.
“Walk-Away Time” was a true conspiracy. It was designed to exact revenge upon the city for the reduction of the Command Officers’ work week. It was practiced by a very small number of the command officers, perhaps only five or six, and condoned by the Captain in charge of the Operations Division.
“Walk-Away Time” offended the sensibilities of many people on the force, which has a large majority of very honest, scrupulous, upstanding police officers. Sooner or later, someone who was aware of the practice wrote an anonymous letter blowing the whistle to the Chief, thus bringing the fraud to light.
Why Are So Many Command Officers Being Punished?
Learning about this led me to ask a question: why were the other command officers going along with the punishment even though they had not directly participated in the most grievous part of the fraud? Why did they not publicly expose the real truth and the difference between those who were walking away hours before shift end and those who were merely letting subordinates go a few minutes early, or being let go a little early themselves?
The answer to that question is somewhat complex. The following is my analysis of what the motivations were.
First, this was damage control by the city. An untold number of officers, both command and non-command, were given “slide-time”. Limiting those affected by the punishment to command officers in one division thus saved the city the need to discipline or attempt to prosecute the entire department.
The command officers involved were all told that there was no difference in their guilt whether they had experienced or given “slide time” or had “walked away” as part of a conspiracy. In the words of the Chief, “the degree of participation does not lessen the violation.”
Another reason for punishing all of the command officers in the Operations Division instead of just the select few was to avoid a huge legal problem. It was felt that singling out five or six officers for severe punishment or termination would certainly have resulted in grievances being filed, arbitration, and lawsuits. The singled-out officers, it was feared, could have made the case that everyone in the department was somehow culpable of the same thing, just to a different degree. The end result would have been a feared legal nightmare for the city.
Police Officers, just like every other citizen, have a right to due process under the law. The Chief stated in his presentation to council that the Garrity decision precluded the department from using the officers’ own statements against them as part of a criminal prosecution. This, of course, is a situation which the city created itself, knowing full well that taking self-incriminatory statements would negate the usefulness of the evidence. As the Chief said, the surveillance cameras and time card system did not make it easy to establish the guilt of individuals without their testimony. So without critical evidence arising from the testimony of the officers themselves, it was believed that there was no avenue left for criminal prosecution.
The command officers that were interviewed by the Special Investigations Bureau were asked one simple question: have you ever left work prior to the time indicated on your signed time card? If their answer was yes, or they admitted to knowing about someone who had done so, they were considered guilty. That was enough to establish the reason for taking action on a “personnel mater”, and also invoked the officer’s right against self-incrimination, thus, it is thought, precluding criminal charges from being brought.
I am told that many in the department are angry with the small number of officers who conspired to deliberately defraud the city, and would like to see them fired and prosecuted. The city’s reaction to the scandal has stirred up animosity within the department during a period of time that labor negotiations are not settled.
All 21 of the Command Officers are going to be publicly revealed via the FOIA process underway by various media outlets operating within the city. As the Chief mentioned, this will tarnish reputations and cause these officers public humiliation. Now that you know the complete story, you can see how for many of these men and women, this humiliation is completely undeserved.
One of the key tenets of criminal justice is that the accused not only has to be proven guilty of the crime, but he must have formed what is known as criminal intent. He had to know what he was doing was wrong, and decide to do so anyway. The balance of the command officers, in my opinion, did not form criminal intent before deciding on their actions.
Thus, the majority of those whose names will be revealed aren’t guilty of a conspiracy. They’re being thrown under the bus to save a few from being criminally prosecuted and to save the city from a lengthy legal process.
Not everyone whose name you will see in the media in upcoming weeks really did something that many people consider wrong. These men and women along with their families will have their reputations tarnished and be subjected to humiliation because the city lacked the fortitude necessary to punish the few who were behaving like criminals. Allowing this to happen is immoral.
Anyone who has taken the Citizen’s Police Academy course occasionally given by the city has met many fine, upstanding, honest officers and knows the general character of the people in the department. Up until now, the city has enjoyed an excellent reputation that has by and large been earned by the efforts of hard-working men and women who put their lives on the line for us with every traffic stop and every 911 call.
Destroying this fine city’s reputation will have a direct effect on the residents of the city. Destroying the reputations of the innocent men and women in blue will subject their families, friends, and most importantly, their children, to undeserved humiliation, shame, and stress.
Once again, the city has taken the pragmatic approach instead of doing what is right. Once again, I am forced to ask: how can the administration sleep at night?
The following is a transcript of Police Chief Michael Reese’s statement before Council on Tuesday, March 20, 2012, regarding time card fraud by the Command Officers recently reported in the media and commented upon here. The statement is lengthy, so I am placing it in its own post. I will be following up on this in the next few days with more information and opinion regarding this matter. Corrections to the transcript are welcomed, but I believe I have the chief’s words 99.9% accurate at this time.
“Good evening Mr. Mayor, Members of Council and Mr. Vanderpool. Thank you for providing me this opportunity to come before you tonight to provide you with a summary of the unfortunate incident that has taken place within the Police Department. Before I start, I’d like to apologize to the Mayor, City Council and specifically the residents of Sterling Heights for the action of certain Command Officers assigned to the Police Operations Division which casts a negative image to the city and its police department. As Chief of Police, and a resident of this city, I’m embarrassed by the actions of these officers and can assure you this behavior will not be (tolerated) now or in the future.
In regards to the issue of time card misappropriations, tonight I would like to provide you with a summary as to how it was brought to my attention, the investigation, its conclusion, and the discipline that was implemented to the command officers involved.
On the evening of January 31st, 2012 I was advised by the President of the Police Officers Association that he had in his possession an anonymous letter, believed to be from a patrolman, claiming that a command officer assigned to police operations, specifically the day shift, was taking leave time in addition to his two and a half hour reduced work week. The additional time was not documented on his bi-weekly time card.
On February 1st, 2012, I forwarded a correspondence to the police department’s Special Investigations Bureau requesting that an investigation be conducted into the alleged allegations. The investigation involved 24 interviews, 23 of which were command officers, and one administrative secretary. All were assigned to the police operations division.
As the result of a thorough investigation, it was learned that most, if not all 21 command officers, in total, were conducting a practice of adding undocumented time off to their furlough time. The practice began sometime after (the) city implemented the reduced work week. (The) time ranged from a half hour to as much as two and a half hours. The practice was conducted periodically only when manpower allocations for command allowed, and there was no overtime paid as a result of this practice.
The level of responsibility for allowing this practice to begin and continue for approximately three months, increases with the rank of the officers involved. If the command officer participated, or had knowledge that this was occurring without participating, then that individual is also in violation. Likewise, the degree of participation does not lessen the violation.
Once the investigation was complete, I met several times with the city attorney, and the city’s labor attorney, to discuss discipline and how it would be implemented. During these discussions, the officers’ rights to due process under the collective bargaining agreement, the grievance process, and arbitration were also discussed. Basically, what could be implemented and survive the grievance and arbitration process. The conclusion was that the captain involved would be terminated or demoted. The lieutenants involved would receive a thirty day suspension, ten days would be held in reserve as a two-year probationary period. If the lieutenants involved are involved in any additional disciplinary action, over the next two years, the ten days held would be implemented immediately along with the additional discipline. The sergeants involved would receive a ten day suspension, with five days held in reserve for two years, again serving as a probationary period. The two sergeants not participating in the practice but having a knowledge of it would receive five day suspensions, with three days held in reserve.
It was determined that removing the suspensions from their banks, excluding their sick time, that this would have the least amount of disruption within the police department. Also, if the officers were forced to stay home without pay, those positions would have to be filled for staffing purposes. This would cause a considerable amount of overtime to be paid. In regards to the issue of suspensions, the suspension time to be held in reserve to serve as a probationary period: this practice was implemented back in 2000, and has been used numerous times for disciplinary purposes over the years, and has proved to be a creative deterrent.
The question has come up as to why the Police Department did not seek criminal charges against these individuals. It should be noted that the only evidence which implicated these officers were their own statements. Prior to the statements being taken, the officers were advised of their rights under Garrity. Garrity, similar to Miranda, is a Supreme Court decision protecting Police Officers against self-incrimination in a criminal matter stemming from an internal investigation. Hence, the statements cannot be used. A review of the building’s exterior camera system did not reveal officers leaving early. Also, the officer’s keyfob only indicates when the officer enters the building, and not exits. Also, a check of the officer’s in-car computer in an attempt to see what time the officer was signing off was also inconclusive. Since this was now determined not to be a criminal matter, but a personnel issue within the city, an outside agency was not notified.
I want to assure you, and the residents of this city, that procedures are now being implemented to prevent this from ever happening again. The building’s exterior camera system will be updated with picture time-date stamps, the cameras will be repositioned allowing full coverage on all the building’s entrance and exits. A new computerized payroll system for the police department could be forthcoming.
In conclusion, once the apologies are over, the first issue we need to address as a police department is (to) restore public confidence. I know many feel that a monetary loss is not enough. Shortly, the command officers involved’s names will be appearing in the local print media and online. These families will be put through public humiliation. Not to mention these officers having to explain to their parents and children how and why they deceived the city that they worked for. Officers who have had distinguished careers in the Sterling Heights Police Department, their reputations are now tarnished for years to come.
The approach that needs to be taken from the command officers to myself, is to take a deep breath and focus on important outcomes, like restoring confidence, learning the lessons this incident has taught, and putting the past behind us and moving forward.
As I stated earlier, I apologize to the residents of the city for the behavior of a few. And let’s not have one incident cast a negative image on a fine police department. Thank you for allowing me to come before you tonight and have a good evening.”
It is disappointing to learn 21 out of 35 of the Sterling Heights’ Command Officers are now facing suspensions for time card fraud. This revelation casts a black cloud over the entire department and calls the culture of the Sterling Heights Police into question.
Committing time card fraud while those involved are pursuing legal action against the city for cutting back working hours reveals an attitude of entitlement more typically found among criminals than cops. That this was not one or two individuals but instead the majority of the command officers shows there are severe cultural problems on the force that will not be easily corrected, not the least of which is peer pressure. Corrected they must be, however: the problems must be rooted out to maintain the public trust. Simply suspending those involved and hoping to sweep the fall-out from this under the carpet is unrealistic and short sighted.
As Metro Detroit has seen time and time again, there is no worse leadership than setting a bad example. The most senior officers on the force have a special duty to guard the public trust and must hold themselves to the highest standard. They are the ones to which all of the officers on regular traffic and patrol duties look for leadership. In a very real sense, their previous leadership has been responsible for the high regard in which the department is held across the state. Unfortunately, it is going to be difficult for this organization to hold its head high among its peers in light of this revelation.
Some voices among the public have already declared that the discipline to be meted out will amount to a slap on the wrist, and that criminal charges should be brought against those involved. There are rumors to the effect that the most senior officer retired suddenly rather than face disciplinary action, which would mean that he or she would be entitled to their full pension.
Although I am unsure that this rises to the level of criminality that would be prosecutable under the law, there certainly needs to be a very public reckoning with those involved. Sterling Heights’ reputation for being one of the safest cities of its size in the nation is now in jeopardy because of this incident. The City Administration needs to move decisively and quickly in order to put things to right. If the City Administration fails to take tough, corrective measures that are visible to the public, it may become difficult to maintain the respect the police need in order to ensure the rule of law.