By JOHN B. BRYANThe Wilson Post
It has been described as an old issue that has been dealt with, but still a letter from the State Office of the Fraternal Order of Police has questioned the leadership ability of Lebanon Police Chief Scott Bowen. The letter was apparently sent to city council members, Commissioner of Public Safety Billy Weeks, Bowen, and Mayor Philip Craighead from Brian Moran, president of the Tennessee State Lodge of the FOP.
Bowen was unaware of the letter and its contents as of Tuesday morning but said he has spoken with Weeks and Craighead about the direction of the Lebanon Police Department in recent weeks and on a continuing basis.
“It’s unfortunate that this letter has surfaced. Our department was nationally accredited under my watch and our record stands for itself. I have the utmost respect for all our employees and the FOP. The Commissioner is made aware of all grievances filed and he is kept up-to-speed on how our department runs,” Bowen said.
In his letter to city leaders, Moran addresses recent morale issues within the department and a “disregard for policies and procedures by certain command officers.” Moran’s letter was based on an investigation conducted by Hall, Booth, Smith & Slover, a Nashville law firm.
P. Brocklin Parks, an attorney for the firm, represents hundreds of law enforcement officers across the State of Tennessee in disciplinary matters, federal civil rights lawsuits, use-of-force incidents, and internal affairs investigations. He authored the letter to Moran explaining the morale situation as well as policy issues in the department and an apparent 79 percent no confidence vote in Bowen’s leadership ability. Parks’ letter was dated Jan. 2, 2009 and addressed issues as far back as 2007 and as recent as October 2008. Parks also cited a “serious issue with call-response times” and that “low morale cannot simply be dismissed as a potential factor influencing this issue.”
“We conduct surveys in our city about our department and get feedback from our citizens daily. We have had some issues with some employees and have dealt with them accordingly. Anything that comes into my office above a written reprimand is sent straight to the Commissioner of Safety,” Bowen explained.
“I think this is an old issue, and it is my understanding that the issues at the Lebanon Police Department have been worked out,” said Ward 6 Lebanon City Councilor Kathy Warmath from her office Tuesday morning. Weeks echoed Warmath’s thoughts in stating that the issues mentioned were old and have been addressed.
“This letter is a FOP’s lawyer’s opinion; I will assure you that our police officers would never intently slow-walk a call in response time. I’m not going to argue with his findings, every lawyer will give you an opinion; these are issues with management philosophies. I have talked to both sides and hopefully we are headed down the right road,” Weeks said.
“We have been aware of this issue, I have discussed it with council members, the mayor and I have also talked to police officers. Our officers will strongly disagree with the statement on response times. I will say there are some errors in that letter and there are some truths in that letter. My main concern is to continue to address issues such as these and move forward. We genuinely care about all our officers and employees and we feel they all have a right to grieve anything we do in the department,” Weeks concluded.
Craighead was aware of morale issues in the department dating back to his campaign last summer for the office of mayor.
“I have heard of this (morale issues) back before the election and I didn’t bring it up because I felt I didn’t have all the facts about it. Since then I thought the issues within the department the letter addressed have been dealt with, some as old as 2007. From the day I came in (as Mayor of Lebanon), the first thing I told everyone I wanted all employees to be treated equally and with respect. We have made some changes in the police department and all the feedback I have been getting from officers within the department that morale was getting better,” Craighead said.
“I will continue to gather facts and learn more about these issues. I will not make a knee-jerk reaction,” he added.
Ward 3 Councilman William Farmer also received a copy of the FOP letter and commented, I will be looking to Mayor Craighead and Commissioner Weeks to look into the allegations and take immediate steps to solve what problems may exist. The problems claimed should be solved by the management. I hope they will act quickly to resolve the questions. Our police are an important part of our city government.”
Publisher John B. Bryan may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.