by Ivan Foley
The police chief and top lieutenant have been “temporarily reassigned” while the Platte City Police Department undergoes an evaluation of cultural issues within the department.
The development comes on the heels of multiple officers reporting new or continued concerns about cultural issues within the department to elected officials of the city.
Police Chief Carl Mitchell and Lt. Al Devalkenaere have been reassigned to work directly for the city administrator and the assistant city administrator while an evaluation of the department is performed.
Results of that review “will determine if any additional action is necessary,” DJ Gehrt, city administrator, said this week.
An interim police chief is being brought in to handle day-to-day management and administration of the police department.
Gehrt said the evaluation will be done by a consultant specializing in organizational culture. He said Mitchell and Devalkenaere are being temporarily reassigned “to eliminate any perception of command influence in officers’ ability to express concerns and recommendations.”
Gehrt said the consultant will report directly to Jennifer Snider, city attorney. Gehrt said this will “create a more objective evaluation atmosphere and to reduce the perception of influence by city administration or elected officials.”
Gehrt added the moves are designed to “eliminate any bias or perception of bias” in the evaluation process.
An agreement with the Platte County Sheriff’s Department will call for the interim police chief to be Lynda Hacker-Bristow, who Gehrt described as a “senior officer” at the sheriff’s department.
Hacker-Bristow is expected to start as interim chief on Sept. 24. Gehrt said she will serve full time in that capacity for a minimum of 30 days.
Hacker-Bristow worked for Kansas City Police Department for 28 years and had 10 years at the police academy, where she trained many officers, including some who are currently working in the Platte City Police Department. She has been a consultant to various police departments. For the past 18-24 months she has worked for the Platte County Sheriff’s Department, Gehrt said.
The city will reimburse the sheriff’s department “for the temporary duty officer, additional compensation for temporary assignments of sheriff’s deputy,” Gehrt wrote in a report to the city’s public safety committee.
Mitchell and Devalkenaere will not be involved in the operations of the police department during the evaluation process, Gehrt said.
Gehrt said Mitchell, who was hired as police chief in 2010, during the review will continue to serve as the city’s emergency management coordinator. He said Devalkenaere during the reassignment period will be working on updating internal police operating policies, which the city likes to review every couple of years. Both Mitchell and Devalkenaere are working from their respective homes, Gehrt said.
After hearing complaints from officers, the board of aldermen assigned the city’s personnel committee and the city attorney to conduct an initial evaluation of the reported concerns and to develop and implement steps to conduct an objective evaluation, assessment and report on officer concerns, Gehrt said.
The personnel committee then directed the city administrator and city attorney to take actions to accomplish the following:
•Establish conditions in which all employees feel that they are able to openly express any workplace concerns and/or their recommendation for improving departmental culture
•Implement an objective review process to assess, evaluate and report on departmental culture
•Ensure that the department continues to provide high quality public safety services during the assessment and evaluation process.
“The city will continue to provide high quality police protection every single day during the evaluation process,” Gehrt said.
Snider, the city attorney, said the city will hire Katie Worthington, who is an attorney and a consultant, to conduct the evaluation of the police department.
Worthington is president of Worthington Employer Solutions. According to the firm’s website, Worthing was a litigation attorney in the employment law arena prior to starting Worthing Employer Solutions. She worked at the firm of Colantuono Bjerg Guinn, LLC for more than 12 years, where she represented both employers and employees in federal and state court as well as before federal and state agencies.
She is a 2001 graduate of the University of Kansas School of Law and is admitted to practice in Kansas and Missouri.
City officials said all police officers will be given the opportunity to speak with Worthington, as will all city board members.
When her evaluation is complete, it is expected Worthington will provide an oral report to the board of aldermen in a closed session, Snider indicated this week.
Gehrt said over the past 10 years the police department has experienced “significant improvements and success.” He noted things such as improved and better-equipped vehicles, improved officer uniforms and equipment, increased pay, additional training opportunities, reductions in serious crimes and overall crime rate, a low racial disparity for traffic stops, increased community involvement and outreach activities, and significant increases in survey results of public perception of the department.
While acknowledging the significant organizational improvements and improved performance results, the city administrator also said the police department has a pattern of short-term retention for new officers “and periodic reports of officer concerns regarding organizational culture.”
The city has taken numerous informal and formal steps to address officer retention and to improve organizational culture including increasing pay, decreasing service requirements for a longevity pay increase, and beginning a senior patrol officer program.
Gehrt said over the past four years the city has conducted two informal department wide reviews and one formal department wide review was done by the city attorney.
“Officers have generally reported improvements to the physical working conditions and organizational culture following each of those reviews,” Gehrt said.