After a tense City Council meeting in which the public, the council and the mayor castigated the Police Department, Police Chief Mark Chaires stood up and promised that officers would be fired.
“There are some people we will be getting rid of,” he told the council in response to scathing comments about Officer Dwayne Johnson, who was observed spending hours each week in an apartment when he was supposed to be on patrol. Despite supervisors, alleged radio checks and an electronic GPS map showing the whereabouts of every patrol car, no one at the department noticed Johnson’s absences until The Daily Gazette reported it last week.
Chaires cautioned that no one should assume Johnson would be fired. The officer had a good record before Chaires learned of his absences and suspended him for 30 days without pay. His final punishment will be determined after an investigation, which now includes the supervisors who should have realized Johnson was missing.
Chaires also personally took responsibility for the “policy failures” that allowed Johnson to leave work four hours early nearly every Tuesday for months.
“I take responsibility. I felt the officers would know we knew where they are [because of the GPS units]. We thought that in of itself would be enough to deter someone. That assumption turned out to be wrong,” Chaires said.
He has now ordered supervisors to track each car through GPS, which they apparently were not doing before. Officers are also now searching through GPS records to determine how often Johnson was missing. The search will catch any other officers who did the same thing, Chaires said.
He declined to say whether other officers had been caught, but said he had recently learned to search the GPS database for “zeroes” to find cars that were moving at zero miles per hour for lengthy periods of time.
Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett also painted a new picture of the department, saying that he and Chaires are fighting an uphill battle against a police force that disregards supervision.
He described it as an “in-your-face attitude of ‘We’re not gonna lose.’ ”
“This isn’t going to change overnight. You have 25 years of no accountability,” Bennett said. “One guy had the absolute gall to say, ‘You know, morale is down because it’s not the way it used to be.’ I really wanted to lose my temper and say, ‘You’re the reason it’s wrong here.’ ”
Bennett also called former Chief Greg Kaczmarek an “absentee police chief” and said many officers hired during Kaczmarek’s tenure were not qualified to do the job.
“You’ve got a lot of people working in this Police Department who had no business being police officers. Why? Your background [check] system was terrible,” Bennett said.
But he promised that the police culture is changing.
“I ask you to have faith in what we’re doing,” he told the council. “It may not seem like it’s changed, but it’s changed. I ask you to believe me on that.”
Council members appeared to reserve judgment. Before Bennett’s speech, they said they had hired Bennett to change the department. They demanded better results at once.