Fresno Police Department’s rank and file is dominated by discontent and cynicism that police Chief Jerry Dyer and his administrative staff will do little to fix problems that have damaged the reputation of the force, according to an internal report obtained by The Bee.
“Low morale pervades the entire culture of FPD but is particularly intense in patrol division and civilian units,” the report says. “Two-thirds of sworn officers (68 percent) and more than half of civilian employees (52 percent) believe the morale problem presents a serious or severe threat to the ability of the FPD to perform its mission.”
The report adds that comments made during a survey of the department “revealed a common conviction that the leaders of FPD already know all they need to know, but are unwilling to make the changes necessary to restore trust and morale.” (Editor’s note: This story was updated Jan. 27 to correctly reflect attribution of the quote.)
The 93-page report was prepared by Michael Josephson of the Josephson Institute of Ethics. The report by the Southern California-based institute is dated Dec. 29, though rumors about its findings – especially that of low morale – have long been fodder for the City Hall rumor mill.
In separate interviews, however, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and Dyer said change is already in the air as a result of the report. They both blamed fallout from the Great Recession, where unfilled job openings resulted in longer hours for officers, promotions were frozen and equipment purchases such as new vehicles delayed. Dyer singled out the department’s patrol unit, where many days more than 50 officers were called in on an off day to ensure minimum staffing levels were maintained. It was a practice that went on for years.
“Frankly, I can understand where people are coming from, reading the results of the survey,” Swearengin said. “We definitely tried to protect the Police Department. In fact it was the least impacted department through all of the budget cuts because obviously it’s a top priority. But I completely understand people feeling they don’t get time off, they don’t have opportunities to promote. All of those things absolutely had been put on hold because of the recession.”
Two-thirds of sworn officers and more than half of civilian employees believe the morale problem presents a serious or severe threat to the ability of the (Fresno Police Department) to perform its mission.
Key finding of report titled “Assessment of the Organizational Culture and Performance of the Fresno Police Department”
Jacky Parks, president Fresno Police Officers Association, said he was “absolutely not” surprised by the survey’s findings.
“This is the same message we’ve been saying to our leaders for several years, saying to the chief for several years,” he said. “It’s disappointing that our word doesn’t matter.”
The report is titled “Assessment of the Organizational Culture and Performance of the Fresno Police Department.” According to the report, the institute had “complete independence to design a thorough, ‘no issues off limits’ inquiry.” It also says that Dyer and Parks were given a first draft of the survey – which was conducted in late September – “and were permitted to make suggestions.” After that happened, the report says, “a few questions were added ... but no questions were removed or materially changed.”
Pulling no punches
Given that independence, the report seemingly pulls no punches.
Dyer and department personnel have suffered major blows to their credibility and reputation by several lawsuits and complaints by current and former staff officers. The report says there have been a significant number of divisive internal disciplinary issues concerning misconduct by sworn officers for various policy violations, including off-duty DUIs, domestic abuse, and on-duty sexual misconduct.
In addition, Dyer and the department were greatly embarrassed in 2015 by criminal complaints against police officers, most notably the arrest and federal indictment of Deputy Chief Keith Foster for drug-related felonies, the report says.
“These incidents fueled a concern both within and outside the department that there may be systemic problems that are hindering the ability of the department to achieve all its mission objectives and that may subject the city to future litigation and scandal,” the report says.
Contributing to the demoralization of the department is an ongoing lack of staffing.
Since the Great Recession in 2008, the FPD has suffered from budget cuts, pay freezes, and concessions from sworn officers and civilian employees.
In 2009, Fresno was protected by just over 849 sworn officers supported by about 473 civilian employees. In 2015, the force had shrunk below 700 sworn officers, but is now around 725.
In the same period, civilian employees were cut from 473 in 2009 to about 265 today.
The civilian units perform critical duties such as radio dispatch, record keeping, evidence maintenance, management and scientific investigations.
Dyer’s command staff, which once consisted of five deputy chiefs, now has only two deputy chiefs.
“Financial, management and morale issues have been exacerbated by the fact that FPD did not promote a single staff officer (lieutenant or above) for nearly eight years despite the loss of three deputy chiefs, three captains, six lieutenants and two civilian managers,” the report says.
We’ve been pushing very hard over the last few years and it’s taken a toll on our department employees.
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer
The attrition of sworn and civilian employees, combined with the department’s inability to upgrade and properly maintain security at police substations and its equipment, “has led to demoralization in the FPD. The understaffing issue is by far the most critical one faced by the city and the FPD. Unless rapidly resolved all other efforts are likely to have limited impact in solving the multitude of vulnerabilities and shortcomings,” the report says.
In an interview Monday, Dyer outlined a host of changes that he said already are in the works.
The department will restructure to downsize its “special units” and use those officers to rebuild the patrol unit. The plan is to add enough officers to the patrol unit that its officers no longer will have to be called in to work on their off days. That plan is effective July 1, Dyer said.
In addition, the department will go from 250 to 300 patrol cars. This will be done by keeping older vehicles in service while new ones are bought.
After eight years, Dyer said, promotions also are being given once again.
He also said he will restore the city’s fifth policing district by January 2017. To save money, the central district station on Broadway south of Olive Avenue, in the Tower District, was closed as the city struggled financially. When it reopens, it will not be at the same location.
“We’ve been pushing very hard over the last few years and it’s taken a toll on our department employees,” Dyer said.
Despite the problems and complaints, about half of the sworn officers (49 percent) and civilian employees (48 percent) who responded to the survey say that “performance in reducing crime, collisions, and serving the community have improved significantly.”
The report also says both groups believe police do a good job of responding to traffic accidents and protecting the homeless, mentally ill, children and other vulnerable populations.
Parks, the FPOA president, gave kudos to Dyer and the department’s leadership for commissioning the survey.
“Maybe he was listening,” Parks said of Dyer, “trying to get a handle on what is going on in his department.”
The department’s morale problems, Parks added, have been four to five years in the making – and will not be quickly fixed.
It is more than issues such as pay concerns and an increased workload due to reduced staffing, he said. It is also how resources are deployed, bad computer systems and an almost overwhelming rush toward new technology.
The department is losing officers to neighboring departments that may pay a bit less, but have fewer stresses. At the same time, Parks said a recruitment effort geared at attracting officers from other departments has largely failed, and academy cadets are saying “they don’t find this family feeling at the Police Department.”
Fresno City Council members, it appears, got their hands on the report at some point last week.
Council Member Lee Brand read it and thinks the department’s morale problems aren’t an indictment of Dyer’s leadership.
Instead, he sees it as reflective of severe police staffing cutbacks during the Great Recession combined with a contentious national mood toward law enforcement after events in cities such as Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo.
“If you do the same survey, any major city police department – L.A., Sacramento, Stockton, Oakland, San Jose – I think you are going to get a similar answer on morale because of this assault on police officers everywhere,” Brand said.
But fellow Council Member Oliver Baines, a former Fresno police officer, didn’t see it that way.
“I’m obviously troubled by the findings of the report and want to make sure we, as a city and a department, are doing everything we can to address the issues in the report,” he said.
Brand also noticed that officers are unhappy with their compensation. He said the report shows the city needs to do a comparative review of salaries and benefits between Fresno officers and those in other area departments.
Key findings of Fresno PD performance report
▪ The vast majority of officers and civilian employees disagree with the statement that “there is a strong sense of unity” within the department. Instead, police employees say the department does a poor job of fostering a sense of unity.
▪ Police employees feel underpaid, overworked, inadequately equipped to do their job, and unappreciated by leaders.
▪ The negative culture is fueled by a pervasive belief that the patrol division is demeaned and disrespected. There’s a general sense that “losers,” or those officers who can’t get promoted, or were disciplined or demoted, are in patrol.
▪ A large proportion of sworn officers are intensely dissatisfied with what they believe is FPD’s forgiving culture created by leadership’s failure to consistently uphold high ethical and performance standards and to hold employees accountable for inadequate performance and improper misconduct.
▪ The demand by leaders to make felony arrests has made it difficult for patrol officers to do community-based police work.
▪ A belief that some sergeants and lieutenants have ignored Dyer’s directive to suspend using the number of felony arrests as a major component in the evaluation of a patrol officer’s performance. There also is belief among patrol officers that once the felony arrest data go down, the department will return to the previous method of evaluating an officer’s productivity based on the number of arrests he or she makes.
▪ More than one-third of sworn officers (35 percent) and 29 percent of civilian employees say that the “fabrication and distortion in reporting, affidavits and testifying” is a serious problem.
Dyer said this issue arose from two internal investigations, one following an allegation of planting evidence and the other involving information gleaned from a confidential informant. Both internal investigations found the allegations to be unfounded.
“However,” Dyer said, “the rumor mill in the Police Department was widespread.”
▪ While 71 percent of civilian employees believe police provided the District Attorney’s Office with sufficient evidence to get a conviction, only 54 percent of sworn officers shared this view and almost one-fourth (24 percent) said that the FPD has done a poor or very poor job in this area.
▪ 54 percent of civilian employees and 35 percent of sworn officers believe that the department has done a good or excellent job preventing citizens from becoming victims of nonviolent crime.
▪ Half of sworn officers (51 percent) and 66 percent of civilian employees believe the FPD has done a good or excellent job in protecting civil liberties. But one in four sworn officers believe the department has done a poor job in this area.
▪ 34 percent of civilian employees and 23 percent of officers believe that FPD has done a good or excellent job “collaborating with other organizations to identify and reduce the causes of crime.”
▪ Both groups (24 percent of sworn officers and 22 percent of civilian employees) also say the FPD has done a poor job “providing an environment where people feel safe, secure, and well-protected in their homes, businesses, and public places.” The negative view is supported by a recent Gallup Poll identifying Fresno as one of three cities (of 100 cities surveyed) where residents are least likely to feel safe, the report says.