When discipline is broken and integrity is lost Peculiar conduct by VOTF members

THROUGH MY EYES

By Ron Edwards

One of the important aspects of discipline within a paramilitary unit is to respect the decisions and orders given. One of the most important aspects of police-community relations is mutual respect between police and the citizens police are sworn to protect. When police departments don’t follow their own rules procedures, discipline breaks down. And when officers lose respect for each other and the citizens they have sworn to serve and protect, integrity is lost and police-community relations break down, endangering both police and citizens.

We see this in the context of the situation that led to discipline meted out to members of the VOTF unit (Violent Offenders Task Force, which could be disbanded due to its break down of discipline and integrity). On Feb 14, 2011, Assistant Chief Janae Hartung directed Lt. Smith and Sgt. King, pursuant to Article 16 of the Labor Agreement, to not be present or be upon the property of the MPD or the FBI without prior authorization from the Assistant Chief of Police.

That was puzzling. Why didn’t it come from current Chief Tim Dolan? Assistant Chief Hartung was obviously the presiding authority in investigating Lt. Smith and Sgt. King, so regardless of who initiated this action, the policies of the department recognize that authority and, consequently, the issue of integrity holds.

The lawsuit filed April 5, 2011, by Lt. Smith and Sgt King against the department (see Star Tribune report, April 5, 2011, “2 Mpls. officers sue, alleging retaliatory demotion”) illustrates the breakdown in discipline and loss of integrity within the department (see my April 20, 2011 column, “New lawsuit continues old MPD cover-up of White corruption”).

Rumors are rampant. The Star Tribune piece reported significant overtime for Lt. Smith and Sgt. King. The integrity breakdown is seen when the all-important facts and evidence are carefully examined. We know, based upon a similar action taken against Lt. Michael Keith three and a half years ago by Lt. Smith and Sgt. King, that they well understand the integrity of the process even as we see them intentionally violating the law.

Sgt. King states in his court filings that he had not yet received the letter of Feb 14, 2011, warning him not to come onto the property of the MPD or the FBI without prior authorization. Why is the truth of this important? Because the last place he was allowed to go were the offices of VOTF.

Going there, not to mention removing any documents having to do with the directive of Assistant Chief Janae Hartung, would be acting against her directive and violate the integrity of the process and the investigation if he did so knowing he was not allowed to. Many have raised this disturbing question: Was there a large black book containing very privileged and protected information removed from the VOTF office by Sgt. King in direct violation of the assistant chief’s order?

This question is raised due to the listing of two emails, dated October 3 and 6, in the filings of the Smith-King case of April 5, 2011. Some are alleging that very sensitive information is missing from the files of the VOTF unit, including important information dealing with both overtime and, as surprising as this sounds, the theft of cases of other agencies. Are the documents in that black book? You see, one of the things that happens when you start to abuse or steal overtime is you start stealing from other folks’ overtime and cases.

For the sake of the integrity and the importance of justice equally applied, citizens have a right to know if this kind of gamesmanship was going on inside VOTF and other elite units of the Minneapolis Police Department. Consequently, this leads us once again to my statement in my April 27 column, that it is important to ask Chief Dolan what and who was he talking about in his letter of January 26, 2010.

The taxpaying public is owed an explanation.

It is important that the community and the police trust each other. As I write this, the think tank Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), is holding its annual meeting in Seattle with a session called “Shooting of Police Officers.” It blames “anxieties, anger and untreated mental illness.”
As PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler has said, too many police departments refuse “to confront strained relationships with African American, Latino and other minority groups” due to “a legacy of mistrust that has plagued law enforcement’s dealings with minority communities.”

Stay tuned.

Ron Edwards hosts “Black Focus” on Channel 17, MTN-TV, Sundays, 5-6 pm and co-hosts Blog Talk Radio’s “ON POINT!” Saturdays at 5 pm, providing coverage about Black Minnesota. Order his books at www.BeaconOnTheHill.com. Hear his readings and read his archive of columns, solution papers and “web log” at www.The MinneapolisStory.com.