Police Chief Emmett Turner, it would seem, is tired of taking the heat for his force’s much-publicized mistakes. The embattled Turner summoned his highest-ranking officers Monday to tell them in strident tones that it’s time to clean up the department. The closed meeting at the Police Training Academy was described by one insider as a ”come-to-Jesus“ affair.
Some 30 police officersall those with a rank of captain or higherheard Turner’s reading of the riot act. Police spokesman Don Aaron confirmed that police managers were told to act with the ”professionalism that Chief Turner and the citizens expect.“
The Police Department’s woes have clearly put pressure on Turner. At a press conference Tuesday introducing Nashville attorney Kennetha Sawyers as the first civilian head of the newly created Office of Professional Accountability, Turner said he ”definitely plans“ to keep his job. He was responding to an editorial in last week’s Nashville Scene that called for his resignation.
Sawyers will investigate allegations of police wrongdoing. Her unit will replace the department’s existing, problem-ridden Internal Security Division on Feb. 1.
But even as Turner acted to prevent more embarrassing missteps by his department, another one has come to light. The Scene has learned that Assistant Chief Robert Russell has apparently been violating department regulations prohibiting the brokering of off-duty employment for fellow officers.
Russell is in charge of finding officers to work off-duty on the security detail at Vanderbilt University sporting events, according to a spokesman for the university’s athletic department. Under the regulation, which is aimed at preventing conflicts of interest within the department, Russell could find moonlighting jobs for fellow officers if he did it on an ”infrequent“ basis and if he received no pay.
Russell isn’t paid for rounding up officers to work at the Vandy games. Still, Brent McNeely, Vanderbilt’s director of game operations, confirmed that Russell finds around 45 officers for each of Vanderbilt’s six home football games and 15 to 20 officers for 18 home basketball contests.
”No doubt, Chief Russell picks the officers,“ McNeely says. ”I couldn’t even tell you most of the officers’ names.“
Is Russell, one of the department’s four highest-ranking officers, acting properly? ”Clearly, he is in violation of the regulations,“ says Lou Reiter, a nationally recognized expert in police audits and the former deputy chief of police for the Los Angeles Police Department. ”Russell’s smart play is to admit he made a mistake and fix it.“
Nonetheless, when contacted by the Scene, Russell said he had done ”nothing wrong“ under his interpretation of the regulations. Still, Russell said he intended to ask Turner for clarification. Turner said Tuesday that, in the future, university officials would select off-duty police officers for Vandy games. Turner said he has no plans to punish Russell at this time.
Making matters worse for Russell is an Aug. 7, 1998, letter, written on Vanderbilt letterhead, in which the assistant chief directed ”all sworn personnel“ who wished to work off-duty at professional football games at Vanderbilt to call Nell Adams, at extension 7731. Adams is Russell’s secretary at the police department. That extension is Adams’ direct line at her police desk.
Police regulations specifically forbid asking subordinates to perform duties related to off-duty work while on the Metro clock. Russell, who makes $88,000 a year as assistant chief, admitted to the Scene that the letter was ”inappropriate,“ but said he felt he had no choice since he had to ”cover“ the games.
”Everyone knows that Russell has the Vanderbilt gig,“ one veteran officer says. ”Why should we have to follow the rules when he doesn’t?“
Other police officers say they’re surprised Russell flouted the rules at a time when the spotlight is focused on the department’s off-duty policies.
Another problem looms. Nashville is one of the more than 100 police departments across the United States and Canada that sends its officers to the Southwestern Law Enforcement Institute outside Dallas for additional training. Institute officials told the Scene that two Nashville officers who were scheduled to attend a December seminar on cultural diversity failed to show up. No explanation was given.
The facility’s director, Gary Sykes, says he had been warned earlier that Nashville Police Department officials intended to sever ties with the institute. Why?
Sykes says they’re retaliating against him for unflattering comments Sykes has made about the department in the media. Explains Sykes, ”This shows once again that the Nashville Police Department, when faced with legitimate criticism, decides to shoot the messenger rather than fix the problems.“
Police spokesman Aaron says it’s his ”understanding“ that the officers failed to show because they were needed on the job in Nashville. ”To say at this time that [Sykes] has been fired is not correct,“ Aaron adds.
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