A wide-ranging review of the Fife Police Department by a team of outside law enforcement professionals found varying levels of frustration among employees, largely brought on by internal communication issues.
Criticisms ranged from a feeling of no accountability and favoritism to a feeling that the department is languishing and lacks purpose and direction, according to a report developed by the five-member team.
The report includes a series of recommendations, from making organizational changes to creating a strategic plan.
Fife Police Chief Brad Blackburn said in an interview Friday that most recommendations have been or are in the process of being implemented.
We sought this out, he said of the review, describing it as a tool for us to get better.
The report went to the City Council in August; The News Tribune obtained it last week through a public records request.
The team, from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs Loaned Executive Management Assistance Program, or LEMAP, visited the department over three days in March.
Blackburn invited them in as part of a multistep police department improvement plan that city officials announced earlier this year.
The plan also includes community outreach and achieving department accreditation.
Fifes police force has roughly 60 officers and civilian employees.
It had a rocky 2011, with a string of investigations finding misconduct or policy violations by three veteran officers including drinking and crashing a patrol car while on call; sex with a subordinate employee at work; inappropriate comments to subordinates; and failure to follow through on an employees sexual harassment complaint.All three officers have resigned.
Blackburn and two members of his command staff also were accused of improper conduct, but an outside investigation determined the alleged actions didnt happen or couldnt be proven.
The LEMAP team finished its report this summer. The assessment cost the city about $3,500 plus incidentals for the team.
The report is meant to provide a critical review of the department and point out areas for improvement.
It is 45 pages long and includes more than 100 recommendations. It touches on communication within the department, but also on several other areas, including written policies and management of police records.
The departments policy manual is badly outdated and regarded as the source of many operational problems, the report says.
The LEMAP team also found fault with how the department manages its records, including that it doesnt have a published procedure for releasing records and the informal process between the department and the City of Fife public records request processes are in conflict.
It also found that any police employee can access hard copies of police records a dangerous custom that is not a best practice.
The department already has implemented some improvements in records management, including consistent training, and is working on others, city officials wrote in a document describing how theyre responding to the LEMAP teams recommendations.
In regard to storage of records, city officials said facility limitations are a major hurdle.
The police department also is updating its policies, said City Manager Dave Zabell.
The report describes intra-departmental communication as spotty at times, with a disconnect between the senior leaders and their subordinates. It says another area of focus by employees interviewed by the LEMAP team was a prevailing thought that the department lacks a sense of fairness, accountability and discipline.
It notes that criticism of command staff and the chief is normal in police departments. But it says in Fife theres a hunger for engaged, visible, decisive and supportive leadership that engages with all levels of the department and provides a sense of direction that permeates all personnel layers to the newest employee.
The report says Blackburn, whos been chief since 2006 and a member of the department for 24 years, is respected, but that employees want him to take a more active role in being the leader.
The team also found that a perception exists that the Chief is a weak disciplinarian and that some employees feel that at times the Department has been lax in holding staff accountable for improper actions.
Blackburn said he feels communication within the department has improved in recent months. A new shift schedule means more interaction among employees, and leaders now meet weekly, he said.
An outside consultant also is working with department leaders on communication, strategic planning and developing goals.
Blackburn said the department is healthy and that we have good people doing good things every day.
Zabell noted the communication issues described in the report are organizational, not tactical, meaning they dont involve officers communicating with one another on the streets.
Zabell also told The News Tribune that he has confidence in the chief and the department.
The report points out some strengths, including the departments evidence processing, storage and disposition protocols. It says the police force is strong and effective and has survived because it has hardworking professionals that care about the work they do.