Given that there is some confusion over recent events, I offer the following summary about where we are, how we got here and where we are headed with regards to the ORPD investigation.
The ORPD has seen a total turnover rate of 45% in the last four years having lost 34 of our 76 employees. Five of those individuals have departed in the last four months. Since February, all council members have received communications from at least seven former officers, three current officers and countless citizens expressing concerns about leadership and a potentially hostile work environment. Others have communicated anonymously citing similar concerns and attributing their anonymity to fears of retaliation.
On February 9th, during a five hour televised meeting, and in front of the largest audience any of us had ever seen, city council formally committed to investigate the root causes behind the turnover, morale and policy issues in the police department.
The resolution that was ultimately approved was brought forward by councilmember Kelly Callison who stated that “We think that’s a broad, a very broad term that allows an investigator, an independent investigator to look at the issues that might be present…” At the end of the meeting, councilmember Chuck Hope stated, “The investigation that we’ve come to an agreement among the seven of us was reached unanimously…there’s enough information that it warrants an investigation…”
During this same meeting, council committed to ensure that the investigation would allow for anonymity of all participants and would include both current and past employees. Mr. Callison also suggested that council select MTAS, specifically Rex Barton, to perform the work. Council did not select MTAS at the time, but agreed to hold a special meeting to select an entity to conduct the investigation and define its parameters. Information regarding the other resolutions that council rejected can be found here.
On March 27th, council held an untelevised special meeting and voted down all proposed parameters, thus none were established. No vote was taken to allow requests for proposals because council immediately went on to approve the MTAS proposal which Mr. Callison repeatedly claimed to be free. The MTAS proposal was accepted in a 5-1-1 vote and would allow only for a “limited review” that would include a random sampling of individuals including ambiguous “community leaders.”
On April 15th, Rex Barton (the MTAS investigator) emailed the names of all of his intended interviewees directly to the chief of police, disregarding council’s promise of anonymity for participants. On that same date, Margaret Norris, also of MTAS, declined a former officer’s request to be interviewed. Again, a complete contradiction of what council had committed to in the February 9th meeting.
On April 20th, City Manager Mark Watson called for a second special meeting to be held on April 21st. Again, the meeting was untelevised and this time council formally voted to “include all ORPD employees as well as former officers who had departed since Akagi’s arrival.” The city attorney warned that MTAS is subject to Open Records law and would likely not be able to guarantee anonymity.
In response to the April 21st changes, MTAS informed Mayor Gooch that their investigation/review into the ORPD issues would not be free as originally pitched but would cost up to $26,500. On May 20th, Mayor Gooch set the agenda and called for a third special meeting (also untelevised) to be held on May 21st.
The first item on the May 21st agenda, after slight modification, was approved 4-3 with Gooch, Hensley, Smith and Callison voting in favor of continuing with MTAS at a cost of $22,700. The remaining two agenda items (one of which was to solicit other proposals) were not allowed to be brought to the floor per Mayor Gooch’s stipulations in his agenda. Should MTAS agree to this new contract, they will embark on a study that will not conclude until October. You can view this meeting in its entirety here, here and here.
The question of whether or not MTAS is conducting an investigation or a review appears to be answered. Contrary to what the citizenry demanded and what council promised, MTAS, at a price tag of over $22,700, will simply study our issues for they, by state law, exist “to provide studies and research” (TN Code 49-9-407.)
What’s more, MTAS, by that same statute, is an “official agency” of the Tennessee Municipal League (TML) to whom this city awards an annual, no bid contract of over $1.24 million. TML services, paid for by the taxpayer, include providing the city with insurance and legal defense in cases brought against the city from citizens and employees.
Should MTAS, who states “in cooperation with the TML” at the bottom of all of their letters to the city, find fault on the part of the city, it could result in TML having to pay out large sums of money to plaintiffs. Thus, it is in the best financial interest of both TML and the city to use MTAS to conduct a “review” as opposed to an “investigation.”
MTAS aside, four other agencies will investigate our police department. As was announced last month, the POST commission has requested that the U.S. Attorney General for East TN, the Anderson County DA and the Blount County DA investigate whether or not the Oak Ridge Police Chief “violated federal and state law involving the possession of a firearm while under the authority of an active Order of Protection.” A serious issue of precedence is at stake as all three offices must essentially answer the question: Are those whom we entrust to serve and protect held to a different standard than the rest of us?
This past week, the Police Benevolence Association confirmed that they, too, will investigate these issues on behalf of their members citing an inability to trust the city’s investigation to address officer complaints.
Finally, there are a handful of individuals attempting to invalidate these issues by maligning citizens and officers. These same individuals have accused me of authoring emails sent to council under the name Bobby Hill. I attest here, and would do so under oath, that I did not send these emails nor do I know the identity of the individual who did. I have posted the emails in question below as they are a matter of public record and have already been released in response to an Open Records request.
From: Bobby Hill <email@example.com>
Date: January 14, 2015 at 9:52:50 AM EST
To: <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Issues in the Police Department
Please take the time to read this. At this time I cannot identify myself for fear of retribution. That is the climate for employees here.
The latest example of Chief Akagi’s irrational leadership is the last straw and prompted this plea for intervention.
Another officer has resigned to go work for another law enforcement agency. Upon turning in their resignation, the Chief promptly announced that the officer would be suspended for an incident that occurred over 3 months ago. At that time the Chief requested the Anderson County DA, Dave Clark to investigate that incident. Clark determined no law violations were indicated. If there was a policy violation, why has the Chief waited untill this officer has resigned to take action? Because he is vindictive, irrational, thinks everyone should be thankful to him that they have a job and, most importantly, cannot explain why the turnover rate at the department is so high.
A recent article in the News Sentinel questioned Knoxville PD’s 2.9% turnover rate. ORPD’s rate is atleast twicw that. Someone needs to find out why. Don’t ask the Chief and expect a complete answer (fox guarding the hen house). Ask all the officers that have quit or retired since Akagi arrived. (the department does not do exit interviews) Don’t ask the City Manager, The Chief was hired becuase they are old family friends.
Briefly, here are a few more Akagi actions that hurt the department.
Disregard for the Personnel Ordinance, specifically the nepotism policy 7.2b. He has placed Lieutenant in charge of the patrol shift his wife his assigned to. No matter how he tries to explain that this action does not violate policy, it is only another indication that he thinks he is always right.
Has completely alienated the Media. Don’t believe me, ask the next reporter you talk with.
Patrol shifts continue to work understaffed. Why? First because of the turnover rate. He has assigned yet another officer to work outside the department on the DEA task force. Why? to appease his former agency? to put money his drug fund?
Still not an accredited agency. Lots of policy’s issued. Officer required to say they follow them, but many are not. Another smoke screen.
Camera’s in cars. The Chief refuses to have any installed in his vehicle. He makes as many traffic stops as some patrol officers and that is were the majority of citizen complaints come from, not mention his response to major incidents that should be recorded from every possible angle.
Endless memo’s required from everyone regarding everything.
The lsit is nearly endless. Officers are lining up to leave when their contracts are up or when they find employment elsewhere. Others can tell you the day and hour they can retire. This despite the fear that the Chief will do what he can to torpedo their chances at another job. Again, all this because he can’t tell the truth about the turnover rate. People are just not happy working at ORPD anymore. It is an atmosphere of fear. Am atmosphere where their is no initiative – it may not be what the Chief wants and memos will have to be written.
If you care, and if you inquire, please do not blindly believe what the administration will tell you as gospel. Ask those who have left and have little to fear.
The Chief has said he only needs 5 years to be tenured for retirment here. He will leave behind the remnants of a department once proud and will take years to rebuild. The employees and the citizens we serve deserve much more.
From: Bobby Hill <email@example.com>
Date: January 14, 2015 at 7:29:40 PM EST
To: <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: More Police Issues
Since the last e-mail, the officer suspended has replied to the Chief contesting his suspension. You should request a copy of his memorandum.
He refers to the Chiefs vindictive nature, cites violations of policy that the Chief has himself committed, and again the fact the Chief only suspended him because he resigned- bringing again to light the high turn over rate at ORPD.
What happened after this officer replied? The Chief ordered that he not be allowed to serve out his 2 week notice, but instead be banned from the premisis.
How dare anyone challenge the Almighty Akagi! Another temper tantrum. Another irrational decision.
The Chief was caught on police video cam violating policy and TCA travelling at 90 MPH without lights or siren. Nothing happens to him.
Your City Manager condones his behavior. Oh yeah, he is an old family friend…
Do something now.
From: Bobby Hill <email@example.com>
Date: January 19, 2015 at 8:11:42 PM EST
To: <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I am glad that apparently at least one member of council took a look at the issues I presented. I understand that the City Manager has done the right thing with respect to Officer Bayliss, the officer that turned in his resignation and was subsequently suspended by Chief Akagi, and reversed that unfortunate personnel action.
My hope now is that not only will the issues I raised be given some consideration, but also those that officer Bayliss raised in his memorandum regarding his unwarranted suspension. Correcting only one wrong should not excuse the others.
Again, i am sorry that I cannot come forward at his time, but the results of my initial correspondence should show the valid reasons for my fear of retaliation from the Chief.