Report finds deficiencies in Elgin Police Dept.

October 28, 2011 02:55 pm
Elgin’s departing police chief took sharp exception to the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police review that found many deficiencies within the city’s police department. Kevin Lynch, the chief who resigned earlier this month following a loud public outcry over his job performance, said in an Oct. 9 letter to the city council that the review, sent to him Oct. 5, was done in a hurry and contained a host of inaccuracies.

“The interviews with me were rushed, incomplete and as a result they have incorrect information on many, many items,” Lynch said.

Long-simmering controversy over the police department and its procedures came to a head Aug. 1 when Officer Erik Kilpatrick shot Elgin resident Richard Shafer to death in the midst of a domestic disturbance call.

A grand jury ruled the shooting justified, but outrage over that incident plus a host of other police performance issues poured out in subsequent public meetings.

At one of those meetings, Stuart Roberts, a former Elgin resident and the current chief of police in Pendleton, offered the services of the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police Agency Review Program.

Roberts said a team would come to Elgin, interview residents and staff, look at facilities and review police department policies and procedures. The council directed Lynch to take steps to have the report done.

Sherwood Police Chief Jeff Groth, Gresham Police Chief Craig Junginger and Silverton Police Chief Rick Lewis visited Elgin Sept. 27.

In addition to reviewing polices and procedures and touring facilities, they conducted a community forum where citizen input on Lynch and the department was overwhelmingly negative.

Those attending expressed concerns about a lack of police engagement with the community, a lack of accountability, a lack of follow-up on crime reports and misconduct complaints, and a lack of adequate service showed by the department. The report does note that only 80 to 100 people — four or five percent of the city’s population — attended the meeting.

Lynch said he thinks the chiefs should have done more to feel the community out.

“The team spent one evening at a community meeting and have judged the feelings of an entire community from that meeting?” he said. “Several people have commented to me their concerns about that meeting. They (the review team) did not walk around the community or speak to any of the city council members.”

A significant portion of the report deals with the department’s existing policy manual. The three chiefs said critical policies are missing and that the manual is inadequate for any professional police department.

According to the report, the Elgin department has no written policy to address citizen complaints, and none for investigation of a member of the department for misconduct.

Other policies said to be missing included those on domestic violence, sexual assault investigation and search and seizure.

The report also said no policy was found showing that the Elgin department adopted the Union County plan relative to officer-involved shootings. The plan is legally mandated by Oregon Senate Bill 111.

But in his letter to the council, Lynch said there are several polices in his manual — including the one mandated by SB 111 — that the review team missed.

“We do have them, but the team did not ask to see them,” he said.

Also related to policy, the report said the Elgin department hasn’t always lived up to its policy on documentation of use of force.

The report recommends the department develop and implement a new policy manual. It says that Lexipol, a company in California, has developed a manual that is widely used by police departments and would work well for Elgin.

In his letter to the council, Lynch said he knows there are weaknesses in the policy manual, and that he has tried to address them.

“I have requested resources in the past from the council in the form of Lexipol to improve the department policies but have been denied,” he said.

On at least one issue, the report takes the city council to task. Though the council is required to evaluate the performance of the police chief annually, apparently no evaluation was done in the past three years.

The report concludes that the lines of authority between elected officials and the chief have been “blurred, misunderstood or non-existent.”

The review also included comments on staffing, facilities and equipment, noting several things that need to be shored up.

It said the Elgin department should have at least four officers on the payroll, instead of the three currently authorized. Additionally, it was recommended the fleet of police cars should be increased from the current two to four.

In another finding, the report said the police department’s evidence facility is not up to standards. It says records are stored in the basement of the opera house and water seepage has damaged some of them.

The report said that the review process consisted of research of the city charter and police department policy manual, and the site visit that included the community forum, chance interviews with local residents, meetings with Lynch and interviews with Mayor Richard Stover and City Administrator Terrie Richards.

But Lynch, whose resignation takes effect Friday, complained bitterly to the council that the process was rushed. He said Groth, Lewis and Junginger spent only about 24 hours in Elgin, and didn’t get the whole picture.

“I do take responsibility for the true weaknesses identified, and was always working to improve those in the future. But the many inaccuracies of this report and the very short time the review team was here is troubling,” he said.

The Elgin City Council is currently looking for new officers to take the place of Lynch and Kilpatrick, who also resigned this month. The third position is also vacant.

Until police department staffing is restored, Union County sheriff’s office reserves are providing law enforcement services.