Thursday, January 24, 2008

Denver Police Chief

Last week I was fascinated by a story in the paper about the Denver Chief of Police Gerry Whitman. For all the details, see this story.

What I have been thinking about is what a scam this is. Here are the basics: Some time back the chief had heart surgery. He took about 100 hours of sick leave during this time and 16 vacation hours; nothing wrong with that. What bugs me now is that he petitioned the Police Pension and Relief Board to have the sick leave hours returned to him. His claim was that his illness was a “line of duty” injury partially created by job-related stress. The board unanimously agreed. It was worth almost $8,000.

Maybe he should have argued that all the years of job mandated donuts caused the problem.

If he really believed that stress contributed to the problem then why continue in the same job? Or maybe that is part of his long term strategy. There has been a pattern among Denver Police commanders to work for years and then at retirement to claim an on the job injury, from many years before, and as a result they get a tax free disability pension. Before the IRS cracked down on this practice in 1992, 70% of Denver police and firefighters retired with disability pensions. During one period six out of seven retiring Denver Police chiefs did so.

So what he has done is not illegal and maybe not unethical but it sure stinks. Here is a job where the foundation is integrity and I don’t think the chief has it. What about the example he sets for his fellow officers? Oh, by the way, the board was made up of five members: the Manager of Safety, a retired officer and three current officers whose boss is Whitman. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house!

The Denver Police have a long history of corruption. Maybe it is stuff at the top like this that allows it to fester.

Around 1960 Denver Police officers operated a major burglary and safecracking ring. When it was all done, 53 officers were implicated and it was suspected that it couldn’t have gone on for so long without the knowledge of many others. A neighbor of ours at that time was one of the officers who didn’t go to jail but was fired. A boy I went to grade school with was the son of one of the officers who went to prison.

In 1990, Denver Police officers were involved in an illegal scam related to bingo games. By law, cops or anyone else who worked at the games couldn’t be paid. Many officers were skimming money from the proceeds and lining their pockets. In 1973 the Denver Chief of Police lost his job over a similar scam.

A few years ago, there was an overtime scam with the Denver Police. According to the Denver Post, on Aug. 15, 2005, Denver police officer Chris Cameron used sick time to take a day off from his scheduled patrol shift. Then he put in nine hours of overtime, getting paid time and a half. It wasn’t the only time. In a two-year period, he did the same thing 33 times. Many other officers had similar schemes.

I know there are a lot of good cops and I know many of them. Are they in the majority? I don’t know. What seems to happen though is that the bad apples rule the roost and many of the lower rung guys are afraid to rock the boat. In reality, your life could be in danger.

It’s too bad that Chief Whitman has set such a bad example for his fellow officers. I hope the good guys will take the lead and show there is higher ground to travel.

Philip

Here is a Rocky Mountain News editorial about the chief.

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