By Angelo Parlove
In December 2015, longtime law enforcement officer Jon Hess reported to Saline City Council about the “brokenness” he found at the Saline Police Department during his independent audit of the operations and organization of the department that same year.
“There are some things in the police department that I listened to and heard again and again that gave me this feeling of brokenness, but everybody I talked to to some degree all said it could be fixed and mended,” Hess told council in a special meeting in late 2015.
The 2015 report tackled issues and laid out recommendations for improvements on such matters as poor communication and outdated policy and procedures within the department. Hess has since returned to the Saline Police Department in November 2016 and completed a second, abbreviated review to evaluate the work accomplished since his first report.
“I think that resonated strongly within the department,” Hess told council this week, explaining the reaction of the police department staff on his use of the term “brokenness” in his original findings. “People came and told me when they read that, when they thought about it, they wanted me to know they’re working hard to develop a sense of pride within the department.”
Hess’ second review culminated in a new report that was completed in December 2016, which outlined the improvements and continued needs in the same areas, including communication. Hess, who previously served as the undersheriff in Kent County, again reported his findings to city council at their Feb. 6 regular meeting.
“You’ll see that the case in every single situation there were bright spots,” Hess told council.
The new report affirmed the police department is making significant strides. The report called the department an “impressive organization” and further stated “members of the department of all ranks and positions demonstrate a high degree of professionalism and dedication to the agency and community.”
The report also confirms improvements have been accomplished regarding the communication issues within the department. “Several new outlets of communication have been created and an emphasis on getting more information to those needing police department updates has been improved,” the report states.
The report finds there has been increased communication between the police chief and city manager with police staff. Hess also addressed this progress in his verbal report to council. “There was a tremendous bright spot in effort with respect to try to improve communication in all different realms,” he said. “I was glad to hear that.”
Despite the improvements across all areas of the original findings, the new report does raise concerns about a continued “wedge of distraction” within the department.
“I must report again though that during this current visit I heard again that there are still a limited few within the police department that continue to create a wedge of distraction for so many within the police department,” the report states. “For some this distraction affects police department relationships with members of city council and others within city offices.”
Council member Dean Girbach said the wedge has been a problem for at least three years.
“From my perspective I agree we’ve got a great organization here in Saline, and we have great officers and so forth, except for that aspect,” Girbach said. “I still see this wedge and a portion of it as a complete distraction to us being an effective organization.”
Girbach said the wedge needs to be resolved. “Looking at it from last year to this year, there is some advancement, but I am strongly concerned about what we keep calling the wedge. We know its not a wedge, its people. This aspect has to be fixed,” he said.
“I am from the perspective that despite what seems to be an over-glowing review, something has to be done,” Girbach further added. “At this point in time we cannot afford to continue to tolerate this behavior.”
Hess agreed the wedge should be addressed. “When there is an opportunity to deal with the wedge, you need to deal with the wedge,” he said. “I guess eventually to get the wedge to understand this is not going to happen around here.”
In his presentation to council this week, Hess further recommended the city develop a strategic plan for the police department, where the council, city manager and police chief set benchmarks, timelines for accomplishments and then measure goals. “Then you’re all on the same page, you all know what you’re looking at, you all know what you’re expecting,” he said. “That’s generally the next step after a lot of these audits.”
As the new report laid out the department accomplishments as well as continued opportunities for improvements, it also noted “the recommendations offered should be viewed as opportunities to improve an already high performing organization.”
Council member Jack Ceo looks forward to continued strides within the department. “Any organization regardless of how highly they function, I think should still strive to do better every single day than they did the day before,” he said. “I sincerely believe that’s the desire and the aim and goal of the police department here in Saline. I would encourage them to continue to do so day in and day out.”