he police chief’s nearly nine year stint in Platte City is effectively over.
Following a very short executive session at a board of aldermen meeting Tuesday night, Platte City Mayor Frank Offutt announced Carl Mitchell is retiring effective Feb. 28.
Mitchell has not been on the job since being placed on ‘temporary reassignment’ in early September while an outside evaluator conducted a study of the culture and organizational issues within the department. During that time, city officials said Mitchell was assigned to work from his home on emergency management issues.
The evaluator gave a verbal report in closed session to aldermen last month. After that meeting, city officials said the city attorney and city staff would provide implementation options in response to the report.
Then this week came the announcement of Mitchell’s impending retirement.
City officials said the evaluation identified officers’ concerns regarding internal communications and organizational culture issues, including a negative work environment related to the management and communication style of the department’s command team.
“However, the evaluation found that Chief Mitchell had neither engaged in, fostered or allowed gender or racial harassment nor had he engaged in any other prohibited or sanctionable command actions,” the city said in a press release issued Wednesday morning.
DJ Gehrt, city administrator, said Mitchell is now considered to be on medical leave and is using his accrued leave through his retirement date.
“The city will immediately initiate recruitment for a full time chief of police,” Gehrt said in response to a question from The Landmark. “Recruitment notices will be placed in local, regional and national law enforcement recruitment sources starting this week.”
Through an agreement with the Platte County Sheriff’s Department, the city had hired Lynda Bristow, a deputy with the sheriff’s department, as interim police chief. Bristow started in mid-October and told The Landmark her agreement was for up to 90 days.
In a recent interview with The Landmark, Bristow dodged a question as to whether she’d be interested if the job came open on a permanent basis.
“I don’t burn bridges,” she said.
At the same time that Mitchell was placed on reassignment, his top assistant, Lt. Al Devalkenaere, was also reassigned to work from his home. Devalkenaere, according to Gehrt, has been reviewing the department’s written policy manual while on reassignment.
“There has been no change in Lt. Al Devalkenaere’s indefinite temporary assignment,” Gehrt said this week.
The outside evaluation of the department came on the heels of multiple officers reporting new or continued concerns about cultural issues within the department to elected officials of the city.
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.
Mitchell’s retirement comes after a career of nearly 45 years of local law enforcement, including his nearly nine years as chief in Platte City.
In a press release, city officials said Mitchell’s service in Platte City includes the distinction of being the longest tenured of any Platte City chief over the past 40 years.
“His service as Platte City’s chief of police caps a distinguished law enforcement career which includes service as a military police officer in the US Marine Corps, nearly 30 years service with the Schaumburg, Ill. Police Department and nine years as Platte City’s chief,” the news release states.
“Mitchell’s career in Schaumburg included tours as a patrol officer and major crimes detective before moving into the police command ranks as a sergeant, lieutenant, captain and division commander,” according to the press release.
City officials in their press release said Mitchell’s tenure in Platte City “included significant improvements to the police department’s organizational, operational and community engagement components. Organizational improvements included upgrades to police vehicles, communications, information systems, firearms, non-lethal weapons and protective equipment. During his tenure, Platte City also enhanced its in-car recording systems and was among the first Kansas City metro area departments to deploy body cameras for all patrol officers.”
The news release goes on to say Mitchell’s service “was also marked by increases in police officer pay, benefits and training with an emphasis on community engagement and service improvement training. Significant community engagement events initiated or expanded during Chief Mitchell’s tenure include National Night Out Against Crime, Shop With a Cop, School District Lunch with a Cop, the Police Chaplain program, the Multi-Family Community Program and the Compliance Citation Program.”