Critical report says low morale is biggest issue for Richmond P.D.
By: Rob Roth
Posted: Nov 28 2018 05:53PM PST
Video Posted: Nov 28 2018 04:25PM PST
RICHMOND, Calif. (KTVU) - A 15-page report by an outside consultant released this week criticized the leadership of the Richmond Police Department.
Low morale appears to be one of the the biggest problems. Rank and file police officers express a lack of confidence in the department's upper management.
"..there exists strong belief that the command staff is apathetic, unaccountable and not competent to lead RPD to the next level." the report stated.
Police Chief Allwyn Brown said he welcomed the analyses by MBD Innovations of Boston.
"I think it is good to have an outside perspective if you are interested in improving and getting better," said Brown.
The president of the Richmond Police Officers Association said low morale is a serious problem, and widespread.
"It is going to take a culture change within the police management in how they interact with line staff and the way policies and procedures are implemented within the police department," said Detective Benjamin Therriault, President of the Richmond Police Officers Association.
"The most important thing is to try to bridge the gaps when they are identified. And that's the advantage of having open dialogues," said Brown.
The report was also critical of how the chief handled a sex scandal two years ago involving at least six officers who were involved with a teenage sex worker named Jasmine Abuslin.
At one point Abuslin had gone to a Florida rehab center with the help of Richmond police, a move that proved highly controversial.
"..the decision to facilitate the transport of Jamine [sic] Abuslin is not the type of decision made in a vacuum and discussed after the fact," the report said.
The report also criticized a quote "less than optimal" relationship with the city manager and other city leaders.
And it said the department leadership lacked a comprehensive plan for reaching out to some parts of the community.
Mayor Tom Butt says the report will be useful in making improvements.
"There have been tumultuous things going on. It was probably a good time to look at it. Based on the report we have some work to do," said Butt.
The report did also offer praise.
It said despite internal problems the department is still delivering quality service to the community.
In the wake of Richmond police scandals, report criticizes department’s leadership
Richmond Police Chief Allwyn Brown speaks during a press conference at the Richmond Police Department in Richmond, Calif., on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017. The press conference was to announce several arrests after an 18-month, multiple agency investigation into gang crimes that included murder, attempted murder and other violent crimes that extended to other parts of the Bay Area. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)
By Nate Gartrell | firstname.lastname@example.org | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: November 28, 2018 at 2:13 pm | UPDATED: November 28, 2018 at 5:25 pm
RICHMOND — A report ordered in the wake of a notorious sexual exploitation scandal and a controversial firing revealed problems in the Richmond Police Department’s management, including a lack of vision, widespread low morale and poor communication from the top.
The report says Richmond police administrators were not effectively communicating with sergeants and patrol officers, and the relationship between the police unions and department brass had turned hostile.
But to the head of the department’s police officers association, Detective Ben Therriault, those findings were “nothing we didn’t already know.”
“We’ve had several years now of basically a relationship with management where management doesn’t really care about the concerns of officers and sergeants,” Therriault said. “People have been told morale is their problem. … That’s a culture change that needs to happen now.”
The report notes there was poor communication between the police department and the city manager’s office, an issue that bubbled to the surface in the wake of two high-profile controversies: the sexual exploitation scandal involving a young trafficking victim and many Bay Area police departments, and the firing of Richmond police Cpt. Mark Gagan.
In both instances, the police department and the city manager publicly disagreed over key personnel decisions. Former City Manager Bill Lindsay said, for instance, that the city’s police Chief Allwyn Brown had been “far too lenient” on officers connected to a widespread sexual exploitation scandal involving a young woman who used to go by the alias Celeste Guap.
Police departments across the Bay Area were found to have varying degrees of inappropriate contact with the woman — some beginning when she was underage — which resulted in sex charges against several officers in Alameda County. Only one officer — a retired Oakland administrator — was charged, in Contra Costa County.
No Richmond officers were criminally charged in the scandal but the department investigated at least 11 for criminal wrongdoing. Four officers were fired and several others received varying degrees of discipline.
Lindsay also reversed Gagan’s firing, finding “insufficient” proof to allegations that Gagan had leaked a police document and lied about it.
Lindsay ordered the report earlier this year, before he was replaced by current City Manager Carlos Martinez. In a written statement, Martinez said the report is accurate overall and provides “fair criticism” but noted the report concluded the police department was “fundamentally sound” overall.
“I welcome and accept constructive criticism, and I feel the report provides that. I also recognize that the department needs to improve,” Martinez said. “I have already talked about that with Chief Brown and we are committed to working together to bring the constant improvement the police department needs, the citizens demand and deserve.”
In an interview Wednesday, Brown said he welcomed “constructive criticisms” in the report and has had “extensive conversations” with its author, as well as Martinez and other city staff.
“It’s not doom and gloom, it’s a chance to redouble our efforts and make improvements. We’re all about getting better,” Brown said. He said the report’s author suggested to him that, “At the end of the day, most things are well and right. It’s more about how do you get to the next level. It’s more about trying to be the best you can possibly be.”
But Therriault described the status quo as “unacceptable” and said there were additional “labor issues” the report didn’t cover. He said some of the department’s problems were deeply rooted, but have “intensified in the past two or three years.”
“We’ve been trying for several years to handle these issues internally and we’ve gotten nothing,” Therriault said, adding that communication with administrators was like “pulling teeth.”
The report was completed in September but released Tuesday in an email newsletter by Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, who said in an interview Wednesday he was concerned by the findings. He said Lindsay routinely audited city departments and that he had not singled out the police for this review.
“(The report) found there are some shortcomings, and I think it will be up to City Manager Carlos Martinez to figure out how to get the police department back on track,” Butt said.
When Butt was asked whether he thought Martinez would be able to work with the current police administration or try to replace the chief, the mayor would not say. Brown was appointed to replace ex-Chief Chris Magnus in January 2016, after Magnus moved to another chief’s job out of state.
“I’m not going to second guess what (Martinez) should do. It’s his job to figure it out, and it’s not within my authority to get involved in that,” Butt said. “Certainly we’re going to follow it, but it’s basically his responsibility to deal with.”
Brown said he and Martinez have worked well together and the communication issues cited in the report are no longer a concern.
“It’s a new day. We’re on the same page; we’re aligned,” Brown said. “I don’t see those problems continuing going forward.”
The 15-page report was made by MBD Solutions, a Boston consulting firm that deals with public agencies. It is based on interviews with 20 people, an anonymous survey that 67 Richmond police staff responded to and a “robust” review of city documents, the report says.
The report found “no compelling articulated vision for the Richmond Police Department,” noting the department’s reform efforts over the past decade.
“Having gone from dysfunctional to functional, while laudable, does not mean that the RPD is now or was ever the paragon of a high-performing police department,” the report says. It later adds, “Given the trajectory of the organization over recent years and the change in executive leadership, a firm and compelling ‘who are we and who are we seeking to become’ vision is necessary to provide the organization with bearing and purpose.”
Among the report’s other findings, 21 survey respondents said morale in the department was low, while only one respondent said it was high.
“There exists strong belief that the command staff is apathetic, unaccountable and not competent to lead the RPD to the next level,” the report said.
Forty-four respondents said morale was not a concern of management. The audit also said the percentage of local residents who view the police force as “good” or “excellent” dropped 5 percent from 2015 to 2017.
“Morale is complex,” Brown said, in response to the report saying it was low. He said lines of communication “remain open” at the department and added, “I’m actually super proud of the amazing job the people do here, day in and day out, a lot of times against the odds.”
The report also found there was “sub-optimal” communication between the police department and city manager’s office, noting Lindsay’s public rebuke of officers’ discipline. It found the city was failing to come up with a comprehensive strategy to deal with contributing factors to “crime and disorder” in Richmond.
Martinez said he thought that criticism was somewhat unfair.
“The RPD and the city have indeed developed effective preventive and proactive community policing strategies, training, programs and partnerships,” he said. “However, things in life change and we need to constantly adapt to keep up with the changing environment, new laws and best practices.”
Read the full report HERE.