MONMOUTH — The Monmouth City Council decided on June 19 to not pursue the review of the Monmouth Police Department they approved at a work session on June 5.
They also reversed their decision to approve a 2.5 percent cost of living increase for nonrepresented employees, with the stated intention of approving a 3.6 percent increase at the next meeting.
The changes came after about an hour and half of discussion and comments from citizens, police department employees and MPD Chief Darrell Tallan.
City Manager Scott McClure said the Oregon Association of the Chiefs of Police does reviews on a “stock basis” for $250.
“As I mentioned in the last meeting, I don’t really feel a review is necessary,” McClure said. “I’m unclear of the purpose. Right now we have a well-managed police department populated with hard-working people. Very high-quality services in our community.”
Typically reviews are done if there is a problem, such as mishandling of a case, misuse of funds or complaints in the community, he said.
“None of those are present in our situation so I just don’t really see the point of doing this at this time,” McClure said. “I know that the intent stated was to look at the department, strengths and weaknesses, maybe have some improvements.”
The department has been stressed by limited staffing, he said, but they’re on the “upslope now.”
“It’d be kind of sad to now put a cloud over the department and put them under the microscope,” McClure said. “Even if the study comes out with something good in the end, it’s a stress to go through and I don’t think it’s really valuable at this point.”
Councilor Byron Shinkle, who was not present at the June 5 meeting, said his desire was to see a strategic plan going forward about recruiting and retaining officers.
“I don’t know how this has gotten off sideways into a review of department or individuals,” Shinkle said.
Councilor Royal Johnson, who proposed the review and to allot $12,000 for it, said his main goal was to bring a different perspective to “see how we can retain people, what we can do better.”
“I’ve been here for five years and every year, it’s more money, more money, more money,” Johnson said.
He said money is not going to be the answer all the time.
“I’d like an outside opinion of how we can retain these people, maybe somebody else has a better idea, maybe they don’t,” Johnson said.
Detective Kelli Carpenter, president of the Monmouth Police Officer Association, told councilors she and her colleagues thought it was important to talk with them after hearing about the vote at the last council meeting.
“We have heard from the newspaper and from comments mentioned at council that other people who have left our agency have been interviewed and talked to about our department,” Carpenter said.
No one talked to any of the current employees who have been there for years, she said.
“We are confused, we are stressed out, and we are trying to understand how we can work so hard and our bosses can work so hard, our supervisors, our records staff, everybody else, and now all of a sudden you want to spend $12,000 of our police budget to review our police department,” Carpenter said. “It is unfathomable to us. It just feels at this time that this has gone on for months. This inquest or whatever it is — witch hunt — I’m not sure what it is, started months ago.”
She said they thought they had moved on from that since the department hired five new officers.
“We feel like things are looking up, and all of a sudden a vote is made to do a review of our police department,” Carpenter said. “Then, an article comes out in the newspaper that identifies our police department as a ‘toxic environment.’ That was disheartening to every single one of us.”
She said the MPD staff care for each other like family members, although they fight like brothers and sisters sometimes, they “have each others’ backs.”
“This has done nothing but cause more stress and as all of you are aware, our jobs can be very stressful at times,” Carpenter said.
She said she and her colleagues have felt scrutiny from other community members since the councilors’ vote was reported.
Officer Justin Reynolds, who was one of six officers standing with Carpenter as she addressed the council, said he hadn’t prepared to say anything, but spoke when Carpenter asked.
“I think we’re ready for it to be done,” Reynolds said.
“We don’t have a problem,” Carpenter added. “We appreciate the concern and the thoughts, but $12,000, it’s frustrating. Right now we’re going through bargaining, we’re just looking at budgets, that money can be used for so many different things in our police department and I just don’t know, if you’re being fiscally responsible as council members, if that is really the best choice for how to spend our dollars.”
Lt. Isaiah Haines said he wanted to say publicly that he supports MPD and all of its members.
“This last year has been the most trying and challenging of my 13-year career,” Haines said.
He was himself navigating a new position at MPD while hiring and training five new officers, while “maintain(ing) the level of service our citizens expect and deserve.”
“One thing however has remained constant and that is a selfless work ethic and teamwork by members of the department to keep things going,” Haines said. “This is the same reason I have not left the Monmouth police department and chose Monmouth as the city where I raise my children and call my home.”
He said disagreements and hard times happen in all work places and in life in general.
“I disagree with your reasoning and decision,” Haines told the council. “It is with this knowledge and experience that I question the desire to review the police department. It is not because I think there is anything because there is not. Review away. It is how we got to the point and the precedent we will set moving forward.”
He said McClure already spoke with current MPD employees and provided councilors with his findings.
“When I read the newspaper and the headline said ‘Monmouth to review police department,’ it was a kick in the stomach,” Haines said. “I feel that regardless of the intent, these words have tarnished the department and its members. Those words alone cause people to doubt our department and our work. This seems reckless and unfair.”
Haines said he hopes the council will support McClure’s findings and move forward.
“I am extremely upset with this council,” said Sgt. Kim Dorn. “The city manager has done a review at your request, of our manager and our department. At the last work session you voted for another review.”
She said the resulting article in the Itemizer-Observer “discredits my chief, it discredits my lieutenant, my fellow sergeants, my officers and all of our staff. That was not fair to us.”
She said they work very hard to earn the respect and support of citizens.
Dorn disputed Councilor Laurel Sharmer’s claim that officers reached out to her, saying the reverse was true: Sharmer reached out to former officers.
Dorn also disputed Sharmer’s claim that those former officers referred to MPD as a “toxic environment.”
“It is an extremely irresponsible statement for a councilor to make to the press,” Dorn said. “It discredits us and it makes the difficult job that we already do that much more difficult.”
Dorn said she would welcome a review of their department.
“I know all of us feel that way,” she said. “There’s nothing that we have to hide. We do the job that we have (been) given to the best of our abilities.”
She asked councilors to support Tallan and all of the MPD staff.
“I feel very fortunate that I’m able to work with some of the most professional, dedicated and compassionate police officers that you will ever find,” Tallan said. “They work hard every day to accomplish our mission. And that mission is to create a safe community and a feeling of security by providing the highest quality of professional law enforcement services to every single citizen.”
He said officers “experience a lot of stress, a lot of emotion and a lot of anxiety.”
Police officers have accepted a calling, he said.
“That calling is to make sacrifices, put others before themselves and to help those who are for whatever reason, unable to help themselves,” Tallan said. “We do what we do without any expectations. We do it because we want to. And even after a bad day, we still get up the next day and we put on our uniform and do it again.”
Tallan said he has had to make many decisions over the last 16 years while serving as chief.
“Some of those decisions have been more difficult than others, but nevertheless, as the leader of this organization I accept and I stand by those decisions,” Tallan said. “Even if they are sometimes unpopular. You see, when I make a decision, I weigh a lot of factors, I seek advice and I listen to the input from all the others who have a stake.”
The most important factor, he said, is what’s best for the citizens of Monmouth.
He said every member of MPD has built trust and legitimacy within the community.
“We are a transparent organization,” Tallan said. “If you feel you the need for someone to come in and review our organization, we completely are open to that. Spending $12,000, I’m not sure that’s appropriate.”
Shinkle said the issue is how to keep people.
“We have all these external threats going on,” Shinkle said. “The efficiency and the results of the department were never in question, it was always how do we find good people who want to stay.”
He said when the conversation about the police department started, it wasn’t about going back in time, it was about finding good people and keeping them.
Mayor Steve Milligan said he’s been “trying to moderate a lot of conversations over the last several meetings.”
“You’re on one track, and Royal and Laurel and now Roxanne (Beltz) are on a different track,” Milligan said. “You guys need to have a conversation among yourselves as to why you’re there.”
Beltz said she needed to interject.
“The reason I supported this is because I thought we were asked, help us come up with a retention and a hiring solution,” Beltz said. “Had I known, honestly that it was going to turn into this, I never would have voted for this. This is not the intent, and I’m sorry to get emotional, but this was not the intent. We were trying to help. And I’m so sorry that it became this.”
She said she wanted to get back to what Shinkle had suggested.
“Roxanne’s exactly right,” Sharmer said. “This was never about the Monmouth Police Department.”
A woman from the audience loudly said, “that’s not true.”
“I’m sorry, let me rephrase,” Sharmer said. “It was never about the operations of the Monmouth Police Department.”
Sharmer detailed an incident in which she said her neighbor was in a crash. Sharmer said her neighbor told her MPD was there almost immediately and the officer was kind and helpful.
“We really appreciate the officers, how hard they work, putting their, literally putting their lives on the line every day,” Sharmer said. “I think somehow this has turned into something it was never intended to be. Chief Tallan asked us in February to help him think outside the box to find a solution for turnover at the Monmouth Police Department, and we’re still trying to do that.”
Councilor John Carey said they were trying to find a solution to have a full police staff.
That was the genesis of what Shinkle suggested, Carey said.
“To my mind that’s what we need to continue with.”
Milligan said it was their responsibility to hire a city manager and the city manager’s responsibility to hire the chief.
“The city manager at that time hired Chief Tallan to do his job,” Milligan said. “He has done it professionally. There has never been a complaint that I have ever heard of (about) Chief Tallan or our department in the 20 years that I have been here in Monmouth.”
Milligan said it has “sickened (him) to see the direction this council has gone in taking votes and saying statements that are contradictory” to their responsibilities.
“It’s time this council understands what the hell its job is and does it right,” Milligan said, with a pound of his fist. “We need to show a level of professionalism as councilors that we expect out of our employees and right now we have set a really bad tone as councilors for how to be professional.”
He said “some people” need to apologize to city employees.
Milligan said the council approved money for Tallan to get up to 14 officers.
“He’s working on that,” Milligan said. “To expect that to be done within a year and we asked him to do that at the end of June last year. It isn’t even 12 months ago.”
Tallan said unemployment is at the lowest the country has seen since the 1960s.
“It’s what I call an officer’s market,” Tallan said.
Officers can “pick and choose” where they work and often get incentives, he said.
“It’s unfortunate that this had to happen tonight,” Tallan said. “But the city employees, and it’s not just my department, the city employees are just tired of not being listened to.”
Shinkle said his concern was that he thought he was listening to Tallan and that they’ve had “a number of conversations about this issue.”
“Why the resistance?” Shinkle asked.
“It’s not a resistance,” Tallan said. “What I’m resisting is that you’re chastising me and my department. I get the feeling that you’re blaming me and you’re blaming my department for what’s happening. It is not my fault or the department’s fault what’s happening. It is a systemic issue across this nation.”
McClure asked for direction to not proceed with the review.
Councilors approved it unanimously.
Carey mentioned that there is a window of reconsideration for the council’s other June 5 decision — a 2.5 percent cost of living increase.
Some city employees spoke during citizen comments about their objection to changing the increase to 2.5 percent.
Attorney Lane Shetterly said councilors could vote and direct the resolution be brought to the next meeting.
Click here to view video of the full city council meeting.