Tuesday, December 18, 2007

KWPD

This is the blog I would write if I were good enough and smart enough. But, doggonit, people like me any way.

Janet and I went to a meeting of the Key West Citizen Review Board last week instead of going to Seekers' Forum, where the question for the week was "Is There a Supernatural?"

Our interest in the CRB was to listen to any discussion that might take place about the situation of patrolman Tom Neary. Neary is at the center of a very confusing set of allegations made against him that resulted in his administrative suspension by KWPD Chief "Bill" Mauldin. It was alleged that Neary was carrying a stolen gun as his personal weapon and that he falsely claimed to be a federaI agent. Key West the Newspaper has followed the case closely, and with considerable ferocity towards the Chief for allowing the department to divide into warring camps, among other alleged transgressions.

The Key West Police Department has been the source of many of the most egregious controversies in recent Key West history. Chiefs have come and gone amid controversy, to an extent that former Jimmy Weekley noted that the change-of-command ceremony at which Chief Mauldin assumed command from former Chief Tom Fortune, was the first such ceremony in many years. One chief, named to the post when then-City Manager Julio Avael fired Ray Peterson at the behest of one or more Commissioners, resigned the job after one month, saying that he felt that threats to himself and his family weren't worth having the job.

A friend who is in a position to know something of the inner workings of the department explained it all to me. The Key West Police Department is staffed with a mix of relative newcomers, hired in the past three years, and officers who have been on the force for longer periods. Some of the longer-serving have been advancing through the ranks into the command positions, sergeant, lieutenant and captain, or have assumed the positions of Field Training Officers (FTOs), kind of like corporals but without the official title. The newcomers, he says, are being instructed to "keep it in the shop", to cover up for each other when things happen that might reflect badly on the department or individuals in the department.

Key West the Newspaper, the most reviled newspaper in Key West among those who have things to hide, has been covering the recent controversy, the one about Tom Neary and now another officer, both of whom have now sued the department over treatment they have received by the department's command staff and its current chief.

The Key West Citizen has the stories here and here.

At the CRB meeting last week, the board was informed by its attorney that Tom Neary's attorney wasn't prepared to bring his complaint and supporting evidence to the CRB just yet, but expected to be able to do so "soon". The board also considered a motion by one of its members to invite Chief Mauldin to attend its next meeting on December 22. That motion failed by consensus for fear that it would embarrass the chief by forcing him to decline the invitation so as to avoid having to discuss pending legal action. The CRB member who offered the motion argued that the chief could legitimately decline to discuss the Neary case but still address what is being done to improve the department's reputation and to restore public confidence in it.

It's a sad state of affairs. It's now up to the City Manager to decide what action to take. Until he does, the KWPD will remain under a cloud.

1 comment:

David Lybrand said...

It's a real shame that the KWPD situation has degenerated to this level. I have observed the Chief many times at public functions (eg, the Bahama Village community meetings, etc) and he's a great public relations guy. You always feel like he's going to at least look into issues that are raised. (But it's not clear about the follow-up....)

I've also gone through the full Citizen's Police Academy program and ridden along on overnight weekend patrol. I never once witnessed any "discord" during any of these contacts (though of course they were "controlled" situations). I walked away from those experiences with a very good impression of the force.

But it really does look like there are underlying eddies in the apparent smooth flow. I know that the current lack of overtime pay (driven by our tax cuts) has heightened the pressures on the force, but that shouldn't be a factor in the latest "scandals". Somebody needs to step back and shine the light on what's going on there.

The ferocity of the attacks by the Blue Paper may help to keep the issues on the forefront, but the reputation of that paper definitely keeps many people from taking the story as seriously as it deserves. That's the problem with being a clarion -- when you trumpet every issue so shrilly, the ones that deserve the most attention get lost in the clamor.

As a big supporter of KWPD I'd very much like to see these issues resolved. And if it requires putting the "old guard" in their "place", so be it. We can't afford this kind of behavior anymore.

 
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