Delayed police investigations, director resigns - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Delayed police investigations, director resigns

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The Channel 4 I-Team found that hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars are spent for police officers to sit on the sidelines. This is months, even years police are pulled from the streets while the department in charge of their fate takes its time.

During the course of our Channel 4 I-Team investigation the police chief spoke out. And soon after that, the director in charge of these investigations actually stepped down.

All it takes is an allegation. Then police paid to protect you can get re-routed to desk duty. But it's how long they're sitting on the sidelines, and not protecting the streets, that's causing serious concern. Even Nashville's chief of police said it's simply not fair to you.

Metro police officer Edward Draves was a street cop, chasing bad guys, protecting the public. But when Draves was accused of making inappropriate comments to a woman, he was put on desk duty.

Not for 45 days - the limit internal investigations are supposed to take.

Not for 80 days. Not for one year. Not for two years. It took three years for Draves' internal investigation to be completed.

"I've had several that have taken what I believe to be an extraordinary amount of time to get from the initial allegation to a department level hearing," said attorney Brock Parks who represents many police officers.

It took three years for metro's Office of Professional Accountability to determine Draves was innocent.

"The investigations have taken too long. They haven't been as thorough as I would like," said Chief Anderson.

And then there's the case of one officer, and allegations he took bullets from the training academy. It took 450 days for the metro Office of Professional Accountability - or OPA - to finish their internal investigation. In the end, that officer too was found innocent.

And a Channel 4 I-Team investigation found those cases are hardly unique. We found case, after case, after case, of internal investigations of metro police officers stretching out way beyond the department's own 45 day deadline.

"Well for the past 20 or 30 years, in my view, there's always been an issue," said Anderson.

That 45 day deadline is important. It's to get officers back on the street if they're innocent and off the street if they're not. And everyone from the head of the police union, to attorney representing officers, to the police chief himself said metro's OPA office is taking too long.

Anderson wrote in a 2011 evaluation of OPA's director - Kennetha Sawyers - there are "deficiencies in your work product" and "the work product of OPA must improve."

The Channel 4 I-Team filed a public records request and found in the past four years, on average, more than 50 percent of internal investigations lasted longer than the 45 day deadline.

In 2008 alone 81 percent of the cases took longer than 45 days. And all that time you were paying for officers to be on desk duty: a total of more than $700,000.

"Could this be done quicker?" asked the Channel 4 I-Team's Caroline Moses.

"Sometimes. Obviously everything can be improved, and that is what we are attempting to do," said Sawyers.

Kennetha Sawyers has been OPA's director for the past 10 years. We asked her to explain in years like 2008, the data she provided us shows only 20 percent of the cases were finished within 45 days.

"Well I don't think that's correct," said Sawyers.

"How is that not correct? You gave me the numbers," said the Channel 4 I-Team's Caroline Moses.

"Obviously, we want to improve our performance, and we have done so," said Sawyers.

And what about the officer on desk duty for 450 days, only to later be found innocent?

"It is necessary to be sure of your facts," said Sawyers.

"And so it took 450 days to be certain?" asked Moses.

"Sure," said Sawyers.

There's no question each case should be investigated thoroughly, but the police union president said when investigations drag on for years, it's hard for officers to understand why.

"Employees want to be treated fairly. That's all anybody wants," said Weaver.

And recently, things have improved, sort of. In 2011, only 12 percent of OPA's cases took longer than the 45 day deadline. But again, in that 2011 evaluation, Chief Anderson wrote Sawyers has the experience and ability to do quality investigations, "however, as we have discussed, repeatedly, over the last year, this is not occurring."

Referring to a case that took place in July 2011, Anderson wrote, "there were serious flaws in the case file."

"Both for the public and for the officers we need those investigations done as quickly as possible," said Anderson.

Then just five days ago Sawyer sent Chief Anderson a resignation letter. She wrote she was retiring to "pursue other opportunities."

We contacted Sawyers after she gave her resignation, to find out what motivated her to leave the department after 27 years with metro. The only reason she gave us was what she listed in her letter, to "explore other opportunities."

Anderson said he was surprised Sunday to receive her resignation letter. He told us he had no intention of firing Sawyers.

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