Archive for Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Starting over with police

July 24, 2002

Steve Butell's resignation Friday was a shock to some, most notably the former police chief's ardent supporters. It shocked non-supporters, as well, but not all of them.

The biggest shock was the timing. Pure and simple, it was out of the blue. But, there's a reason for that, although Butell and city officials won't talk about it.

It's easy to assume that the resignation is related to the 13 months of turmoil that the Baldwin City Police Department has endured. But, what I've been told, is the matter came to a head because of an unrelated matter.

The rumors of what happened are already out there, circulating and growing. Based on what I've learned is it involved a breech in policy. It didn't have anything specific to do with the investigation into the department, the subsequent suspensions or the threatened lawsuits by four officers in the department.

But, it's also safe to say that all of the furor surrounding the department did, ultimately, make a difference. What happened last week to prompt the resignation could be described as the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. If it hadn't been for the numerous questions raised about the department over the past year, we may have never known about what happened and Butell might still be chief.

However, it's pure speculation to say "what if." We'll never now because try as you might, the department's turmoil cannot be forgotten.

What Butell's resignation does do, though, is finally brings about a starting point to starting over. Throughout the turmoil, a big part of the problem has been regaining confidence in the department.

Because the Bennett Report, which detailed the findings of an outside investigation into the department by special counsel, Kansas Bureau of Investigation and Kansas Highway Patrol, was never released, we've never known what was found out other than a "lack of administrative control." That was the only finding ever released.

No matter how you slice it, administrative control falls squarely on the chief. What we also know is that Butell's four-day suspension was the longest of the suspensions handed out.

We also know that four officers filed notice of complaints as a result of the turmoil they endured during the year-long process. The 120-day time frame for the city to answer three of those complaints is quickly running out. Then we'll know if those complaints turn into the million-dollar lawsuits that have been threatened.

Let's hope that doesn't happen. Let's hope that somehow with a new, fresh start at the top that whatever the problems were in the department can be fixed. It certainly would be a good-faith showing by the officers involved that they're committed to making things work in the department.

Those officers have waffled with their support of the chief. When the whole matter started a year ago, it was two officers who sought out city officials because their complaints against a fellow officer were not being addressed by the administration. That's what started this whole affair.

The officers took it a step farther when they hired an attorney to air their complaints about a "hostile work environment" to the city council in the fall. They claimed they were being punished for bringing their concerns about the former officer to the attention of officials.

But, after a consultant was brought in to try and save the department, those officers switched gears and claimed they were behind the chief. Then the suspensions came. Then the complaints were filed.

This is enough. Butell's resignation clears the way for a new beginning at the BCPD. Let's hope everyone involved jumps at the chance. It would certainly go a long way toward restoring confidence in the department. That's something that everyone wants.

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