By Ellie Bluestein
A reporter from The Fresno Bee asked what I thought about the conclusions of the recent internal report conducted by Michael Josephson Institute at the request of the Fresno Police Department regarding police morale. Here is my response.
Chief Dyer has got to go. There are reports and surveys galore, all of which we pay for. And we now have two Officers of Independent Review who do a good job of monitoring police operations and practices, but Dyer is not capable of implementing them. And who would want to come and work for the FPD at this point? With the latest scandal of the deputy chief running a drug ring? Does anyone really believe that Dyer knew nothing about it? Or that he didn’t know that Foster was in serious trouble? Why is he not in jail while petty thieves linger in jail cells waiting for their cases to be heard, and we all know that Foster will probably get off anyway.
I have been a member of the Central California Criminal Justice Committee since Ed Winchester retired. Dyer should never have been hired as chief. There was never a proper national search made. Captain Patrick Rhames, listed as a candidate to be Fresno’s new police chief said, “he doesn’t want the job because the city needs an outsider who can bring ‘fresh eyeballs’ to a department confronted in recent years by major problems. “Anyone who has had their eyes open and read the newspapers for the last couple of years might be inclined to agree. Rhames said police departments traditionally prefer to promote from within: But my experience is that extremely good things happen when you bring people in from the outside and they look at things with fresh eyeballs.
Rhames pointed to George K Hansen who was hired from Lincoln Neb. in 1978. He instituted community-based policing and brought police closer to the public. When he died in office Mayor Dan Whitehurst said, ‘Hansen turned things around’ in a department that had been ‘virtually in shambles.’ “Rhames called Hansen’s tenure very beneficial to Fresno and said ‘beneficial effects’ also occurred when Joseph Samuels from Oakland served as chief from 1991- 1993 before returning to Oakland. The city manager hires the police chief, but the mayor hires the city manager, and Mayor Autry tabbed Dyer as being on the shortlist.
There has been discontent in the police department for many years, and at times it has come to the fore but has never been handled. Four years ago two top deputy chiefs brought an actual lawsuit against Chief Dyer for “violating state law by creating a hostile work environment. They contended Dyer made demeaning remarks about blacks Asians and women and mocked Swearingen and her female administrators, saying City Hall is run like a sorority. Shaffer and Nevarez also alleged that Dyer harassed them and retaliated against them. They sought damages for emotional distress as well as lost wages and benefits.
The case was scheduled for trial in a month”. It would have been wonderful to hear the case and find out if the criticisms were well-founded. if they were justified and accurate it certainly would have been cause to do something about it. Instead, the mayor hired very expensive out-of-town lawyers to preclude the possibility of finding out if they were actually true, by settling the case before it could be heard. instead of allowing the public to find out the truth the city chose to waste thousands of dollars to settle the case that could easily have been settled for a lot less and purchased some of the equipment it so sorely needed or hired more personnel.
Here is part of a statement released by Mr. Pabooljiam, the lawyer for the plaintiffs;
“This case never had a multi-million-dollar value in front of a jury. The purpose of the lawsuit was not to obtain a multi-million-dollar settlement, but to hold the city accountable for its conduct. Our community should be asking our leaders why this case was not resolved sooner. Why did the city take 51/2 months to investigate complaints by its employees? Why did my clients have to go on paid administrative leave when they complained about improper conduct? Why did the city demand confidentiality agreement? Why did the city of Fresno hire outside legal representation, outsourcing hundreds of thousands of dollars that should have remained in our community? What needs to happen ls more oversight and control in matters of litigation by our city leaders.”’
Recently I attended a meeting of 200-300 community members organized by Faith in Community and a coalition of churches, community groups and individuals to confront our law enforcement leaders with the need to treat all segments of our community with equal respect, fairness and justice. Chief Dyer promised to abide by these requests and make changes in policies and procedures where necessary, within a reasonable time frame. These kinds of requests have been made many times before. With a new mayor soon to be elected this is a perfect time for a new police chief to be appointed.
Ellie Bluestein is a member of the Central California Criminal Justice Committee and founder of the Fresno branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.