Police Chief Michael Kehoe this week outlined the steps that would be taken at the Newtown Police Department to foster improved communications among its membership, in light of a recent study performed by a consultant on the working conditions at the department and the job dissatisfaction experienced by rank-and-file police officers.
Earlier this month, a criminal justice professor told Police Commission members that improving communications among rank-and-file police officers, the police chief, and the Police Commission is the best way to address low morale among the rank-and-file police membership.
Consultant James E. McCabe, PhD, an assistant professor in the criminal justice department at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, served in the New York City Police Department for 21 years, retiring at the rank of inspector.
Dr McCabe performed the free study at the request of the Police Commission in response to police union members’ complaints to the Police Commission about low morale among police officers due to police management actions.
The McCabe study included questionnaires and discussion groups at which police officers described their concerns about their work environment at the 45-member police department.
The police union represents 43 officers, but not the chief or the captain. The five-member police command staff, which includes the chief, the captain, and three lieutenants, opted not to participate in the McCabe study.
Addressing the decision not to take part, Chief Kehoe explained, “Although I or the command staff could have clarified many things in the report and given the reader a better perspective when reading the report, we believed we could ‘best’ serve our organization by focusing in on the improvements needed for the organization to thrive beyond its current capacity.
“By focusing in on the areas of improvement, we also established the first link to effective communications, listening; that is listening to the members of the agency,” he added.
“It was the command staff’s collective belief that we would learn much more by just being an active listener. Therefore, we chose not to participate in the diagnostic report and decided to put our efforts into the focus points identified as potential improvement areas,” Chief Kehoe explained.
In the report, Dr McCabe repeatedly notes that the police command staff did not participate in the study.
“It must be reiterated that this research was employee-centered. About half of the department participated in the focus groups and only 34 of the sworn officers completed the survey. It is impossible to discern the views of the nonparticipants, and their views may be starkly different from the actual respondents,” the McCabe report states.
Among his recommendations, Dr McCabe suggests that the Police Commission oversee a process intended to repair a perceived lack of trust and lack of organizational support between the police command staff and the rank-and-file officers of the department.
“The command staff of the Newtown [police department] needs to reenergize their leadership roles in the organization. Leadership means motivating, building relationships, and understanding the people that you are charged with leading,” according to the report.
When he met with the Police Commission to discuss his report earlier this month, Dr McCabe said the police department has an “outstanding group of men and women who are looking to do a good job.”
Consequently, their views should be considered in formulating the police department’s employee job performance evaluation system, he said.
Chief Kehoe said this week, “We want to closely align ourselves with [Dr McCabe’s] recommendations.”
“We’ve already set up a [police department] committee to look at our evaluation systems…They’re going to meet regularly,” he said. The panel’s membership includes police command staff and police union members, he said.
That panel has already met once and has the working name of the Employee Performance Evaluation Committee.
Various police departments use many different employee evaluation systems, Chief Kehoe said, noting that the Newtown police consult with other departments concerning how they evaluate their employees.
“We’re going to have open dialogue on ways to improve employee performance evaluation systems,” the police chief said.
The committee will keep minutes of its meetings and make reports to the Police Commission on its progress, Chief Kehoe said.
Having such a committee would lead to improved intradepartmental understanding through the clarification of philosophical and ideological viewpoints, he said.
A second committee also will be organized of which he will be a member, Chief Kehoe said.
The Labor/Management Committee would address current issues facing the police department, he said. That committee will keep minutes of its meetings and may make reports to the Police Commission, he said.
The Labor/Management Committee, however, would not be a labor contract negotiations committee, he said. The police union’s current three-year labor pact with the town expires on June 30, 2014.
Asked to comment on the police chief’s plans for the two police department committees, union President Scott Ruszczyk replied that he has no comment.
Police are represented by Newtown Police Union, Local #3153, Council #15, AFSCME, AFL-CIO.
Police Commission discussions on the desirability of conducting a labor study began in April 2010, when former union officials described the police department problems posed by low morale among rank-and-file members.