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Independent Study Addresses Police Dept Morale Issues

A study of working conditions experienced by rank-and-file officers at the Newtown Police Department has found that police are working in an environment of low morale fueled by a high level of employee dissatisfaction.

The independent study was prepared by Dr James E. McCabe, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. Dr McCabe prepared the report at no cost at the request of Newtown’s Police Commission. Dr McCabe retired at the rank of inspector from the New York City Police Department in 2006 after 21 years of service to pursue an academic career.

Dr McCabe, who holds a PhD in criminal justice, declined to comment on the contents of his report, referring questions on the topic to Police Commission Chairman Paul Mangiafico or Police Chief Michael Kehoe.

Police Commission discussions on the desirability of conducting such a study began in April 2010, when then-Newtown Police Union president Andrew Stinson and then-union treasurer Domenic Costello discussed the police department problems posed by low employee morale within the organization. (Both union officials have since left the department and have been convicted of felony larceny charges. See separate story this week.)

The police department has 46 sworn officers, of whom 44 people are covered under the labor contract between the Newtown Police Union, Local #3153, Council #15, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, and the town.

The McCabe study, known as “Newtown Police – Employee Diagnostic” is dated February 2012.

Whether the contents of the McCabe report in its current state should be publicly discussed was a topic of discussion at a May 1 Police Commission session.

Mr Mangiafico recommended that the report be discussed publicly at the meeting, but members Brian Budd, James Viadero, and Joel Faxon opted not do so. Member Andrews Sachs did not attend.

The four commission members who were present then entered a 30-minute closed-door session at the end of the meeting during which they debated the merits of disclosing the report in its current state, or instead disclosing some revised version of the document in the future.

The police chief, police captain, police union president, the commission’s clerk, and a reporter were not allowed to attend that session.

Following the closed session, Police Commission members agreed to conduct another closed session on May 15, ostensibly to discuss the report.

The Bee has independently obtained a copy of the 32-page document, which was fashioned from written responses to a questionnaire and a series of conversational focus groups on job satisfaction conducted last fall. It is available online at www.newtownbee.com.

 

Conclusions

According to the conclusions listed in the report, it appears that local police officers are eager to provide superior service to the people of Newtown.

“Responding officers take pride in their jobs, want input into [police] department operations, and believe their work is significant and important to the community. Newtown residents enjoy a high quality of life and low crime and disorder. Undoubtedly, the contributions of the Newtown [police department] and its high quality workforce contribute to this environment,” the report states.

“On the negative side, there appears to be a substantial amount of dissatisfaction in the workplace. It was troubling to see the lack of information reported on the [written] surveys. This is a clear sign of problems associated with trust and fear. On one hand, responding officers want to be involved in the organization, and on the other, [they] fear providing information that might lead to their identity,” it states.

The written survey sought anonymous responses to questions.

“Focus group participants report dissatisfaction with the communication, supervision, and leadership within the department…Clearly, there are problems within the organization and these problems are contributing to employee dissatisfaction,” it adds.

“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 report states.

The report repeatedly notes that the police department’s command staff, or higher ranking officers, did not provide comments for the document.

“Before any process aimed at restoring trust can be put in place, the people responsible for the leadership and management of the organization must first recognize the seriousness of this issue and explore ways of dealing with it,” according to the report.

 

Recommendations

Dr McCabe recommends 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. From a police perspective, it cannot be done from behind a desk working Monday to Friday during regular business hours, writing and distributing memos,” it adds.

“Leadership is a ‘people’ business and the leaders of the Newtown [police department] need to reengage the workforce…The Newtown [department] should invest in the leadership development of all its sworn officers, from the entry-level officer in field training right up to the chief of police,” according to the McCabe report.

Chief Kehoe said this week, “It’s good advice. I think it’s great advice. We’ll look at ways to accomplish that. We’ve got work to do here.”

Chief Kehoe said that police officials need to translate the various advice provided in the report into “action plans” for implementation.

Mr Mangiafico told The Bee May 2, “I really don’t care to comment about the report.” The Police Commission will be discussing the report’s contents with Dr McCabe, Mr Mangiafico said.

Of his attempt on May 1 to have Police Commission members discuss the report publicly, Mr Mangiafico said, “I did not prevail.”

Asked to comment on the February 2012 McCabe report, Newtown Police Union President Scott Ruszczyk said, “I think it would be premature to comment on an unfinished report,” in noting that a final version of the document will be created.

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