Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Richardson Police are Hiring. Surprised?

If you're looking for the five Ws of journalism (Who, What, When, Where, and Why), this is not the post for you. But if you don't mind going for a ride through my disorganized mind, you're in the right place. I'll inevitably go off on a few tangents on our journey, but I promise to always get back on track.

For three days, I've been promising to write about Thursday night's special called session of the Richardson City Council, and I've kept putting it off. Oh, I wrote about Wayne Olson's verbal report and his written report of his investigation into Office Kayla Walker's complaint that the City operates an Illegal ticket quota system. But I didn't write about the City Council. Why was that even the venue? Why not a court of law? The councilmembers didn't take a vote at the end. They didn't take any action regarding the complaint at all. When I pondered why it all happened the way it did, I found my mind becoming a jumble of different thoughts. It's taken me three days to even begin an inventory of them. I'm thinking if I just start writing, maybe some semblance of order will come.

The setting Thursday night was something out of a legal drama. Seven city council members sat on a dais like supreme court judges. There was one man in the docket: Police Chief Gary Tittle. But there was only one attorney present. Was he the prosecutor or the defense attorney? It became apparent very quickly he was there for the defense. Wayne Olson said he was hired because he has a lot of experience in representing cities and police departments. So where was the prosecutor? There wasn't one. The City set this up to have the appearance of a court of law, but with no intention of allowing any role for anyone who might actually represent the complainant.

First tangent. City councilmembers are not judges, no matter how much some of them might think they are. A recent councilmember, when asked whether the council had discussed allowing accessory dwelling units in Richardson, said something like, "The council has never discussed this. We usually wait for staff to bring something to us and that hasn't happened yet." Even the City's Social Media Policy has the assumption of councilmembers as judges. "[T]o avoid allegations of favoritism and/or bias for or against any individual, entity or issue, officials are prohibited from making any statements on social media regarding any individual, entity or issue which is reasonably likely to be considered by the body on which the official serves." Really?!? I expect and want councilmembers to publicly advocate for proposals, all the way from concept to council approval and beyond. I certainly don't want them to just wait until proposals come before the City Council. This attitude of thinking that councilmembers can't advocate for policies, but only rule on them, is a serious misinterpretation of a political representative's role in a legislative body.

OK, back from the tangent. Wayne Olson was smart enough to know this wasn't a court of law, and probably smart enough to know that his audience could be confused on the matter. He helpfully said, "These findings are couched in terminology and form much like a court of law would state its legal 'findings of fact' following a trial. The findings, however, are not legal findings and should not be so construed."

None of that kept the City Council from reacting at the end as if a long trial had just been gavelled to a close after the jury had returned a verdict of not guilty on all counts. But using the trial analogy, there was no jury verdict. All we heard was the defense attorney's closing argument. Councilmember Janet DePuy acted like the investigation isn't just the opening act of a play, but is the final curtain. Depuy said she was very happy to be "putting this to bed." Dubey also spoke of these charges in the past tense, saying he appreciated the process and was glad that there were no true skeletons found. Councilmember Joe Corcoran also seemed to accept the defense attorney's judgment as the last word on the legal question. He said "I'm happy that we're not breaking the law." His takeaway is that "we need to change officers' misconceptions about quotas." How about changing City Council's own misconceptions of where things stand? They seemed to swallow Olson's interpretation of the law as the final word on the matter. Mayor Paul Voelker came so close to getting it right. He said, "While this report includes legal analysis, these are not legal findings." But then he missed the shot. Councilmember Jennifer Justice, a lawyer herself, rightfully pointed out that the report of the investigation has been passed to the Dallas County District Attorney for further consideration. Whether the curtain rises for a second act remains to be seen, but the City Council is hastily ushering us all out of the theater anyway.

Dubey praised Olson as someone with "no dog in the fight" (in fact, Olson was hired by the City and admitted up front that all his legal experience is in defending cities and police departments, so yeah, defending police is kind of his dog). Dubey then praised the thoroughness and rigor of the investigation (Olson interviewed only two of seventy-two patrol officers, one of whom agreed that the City ran a quota system). It was like Dubey and I were watching two different movies.

Justice gets the award for best cross-examination. Her questions to Olson were short, direct, and clear. As a bonus, she elicited the quote of the night (for me) by getting Olson to offer this head-scratching defense of using traffic citations for evaluating officers: "It's not bean counting, but it is number counting." Ok, I'm glad that's cleared up.

Several Councilmembers vied for the most insulting straw man argument.

First place goes to Councilmember Ken Hutchenrider. He said he's seen the horrific effects of traffic accidents and said "he doesn't want a city that doesn't take traffic management seriously." Officer Walker should feel insulted with Hutchenrider's implication that by complaining that the city is breaking the law, she somehow doesn't take traffic management seriously.

Dubey gets second place for saying to Chief Tittle, "Most of our citizens are appreciative that we are mindful and watching and that safety is first...You're not going to use Richardson as a pass-through and go 100 miles per hour to get from Point A to Point B." Either Dubey was off on his own tangent or he, too, was implying that Officer Walker's objection to illegal quota systems somehow is a vote in favor of allowing people to drive 100 mph.

DePuy gets bronze (an Olympics reference!) by implying that Officer Walker's complaint was merely the attitude of a disgruntled employee. "We all have to be judged somehow," she said. Of course we do. Officer Walker is not objecting to being evaluated. She's objecting to being evaluated with an illegal ticket quota system. Big difference.

Arefin Shamsul said he participated in a ride-along with Officer Walker, saying, "No doubt she's a very wonderful, great police officer." But Dubey and DePuy just couldn't understand why this thirteen-year veteran with consistently good performance reviews, is well-liked and respected by her peers and superiors, and hasn't been punished for failing to meet the quotas defined for her, why she might have a complaint. The explanation that maybe she complained precisely because she's a good police officer didn't occur to them. She's sworn to uphold the law and when she saw an unlawful practice being used in her own department, she decided to blow the whistle. Did she get praise for it? Hardly. The most anyone could offer her was a promise of no recriminations.

Hutchenrider got on his high horse and excoriated Officer Walker for daring to take her complaint to the City Council without "taking it through command staff." He shouldn't presume what she did and didn't try to do. Remember, he hasn't heard from her. I'm never surprised in workplaces when employees don't feel safe telling bosses that the bosses are breaking the law. Given that we just had an investigation that quickly shut down the interviewing process after interviewing just two patrol officers out of more than seventy, I'm not surprised if she didn't trust the investigation either. After reading the report, I could understand if she felt that way. But again, we didn't hear from her, so let's not be hasty in condemning her actions.

Voelker had a much better take on this. "We need to reflect on our management processes and procedures so that employees find these processes to be the preferred approach." Exactly. Don't jump to the conclusion that there must be something wrong with the employee. Find out if there's something wrong with the process instead.

At the end of the meeting, Police Chief Tittle put on his best no-nonsense look and forcefully asserted, "The Richardson Police Department does not have a ticket quota, nor will a ticket quota be allowed by me or any other member of our organization." He would have been more convincing if we hadn't just sat through a long meeting detailing how the Richardson Police Department does, in fact, have a ticket quota system. Patrol officers were told that if they wrote thirty to forty citations per month (i.e., "a predetermined or specified number") they would not get spoken to about the number of citations they write . During performance evaluations, they are told they need to meet sector averages (i.e., another "predetermined number or specified number"). Their evaluations are largely determined by metrics that include counts of citations (i.e., "a plan to evaluate, promote, compensate, or discipline a peace officer according to the officer’s issuance of a predetermined or specified number of any type or combination of types of traffic citations"). In the plain language of state law, this is an illegal ticket quota system. Chief Tittle's denial would have been better received if he had prefaced it with something like, "I understand that reasonable people might interpret this statute differently, but for these reasons, I believe it's not a ticket quota system.". No one asked him for those reasons. Just asserting something, no matter how forcefully, doesn't make it so.

Voelker best summarized this case: "At the heart of this is how does a city monitor the performance and measure the productivity of officers?"

That triggers yet another tangent. In a way, I feel sorry for Chief Tittle. He's being asked to increase public safety through better traffic management. Yet, at the same time, the same City Council that is directing him to do that is also setting budgets and directing the Engineering Department to widen roads, straighten roads, smooth roads, and separate cars from pedestrians and cyclists on roads, all in order to move more car traffic on Richardson streets at higher speeds. This car traffic the Police Department is then charged with calming. The City Council fails to see it has contradictory goals and it's the police who face the consequences.

OK, back on track again. Hutchenrider told Chief Tittle that "we [the City Council] do not have the right to tell you how to run your department." I beg to differ. If Chief Tittle is running his department in an unlawful manner, someone needs to tell him that. Ideally, it would be the City Manager, and if he doesn't, the City Council needs to replace him with someone who will act lawfully. I'm not saying we're at that point, but Hutchenrider's lecture didn't give me confidence that he even thinks the City Council has that responsibility.

Final tangent, I swear. Why was the City Manager sitting up on the dais with the City Council instead of being down in the dock with the Police Chief? The Police Chief reports to the City Manager. The buck stops with the City Manager. If the City is running an unlawful ticket quota system, the City Manager needs to answer for it, not just the Police Chief.

The last word goes to Dubey, who said to Chief Tittle, "We [the City Council] get a lot of messages from our citizens... I think it's real important that you are saying to them that I am listening."

Actually the last, last word is going to me, and it's directed not just to Dubey, but to the whole council. I did not get the feeling that you were listening. Or rather, I got the feeling that you were listening only for the words, "The evidence does not support a finding that the City imposes an illegal ticket quota on the members of the Department." I did not hear a recognition that reasonable people might see things differently. Maybe, just maybe, the Chief was listening despite his adamant denial of wrongdoing. Maybe his proposed reforms to the officer review process will do away with the ticket quota system. Let's hope anyway. That slender thread of hope is my only positive takeaway from the evening.

P.S. The Richardson Police Department is hiring. Are you surprised?


Vicky Suarez said...

Thank you, Mark. I appreciate your thoughtful analyses. Keep them coming.

Dale said...

This is terrible writing.