March 27, 2003
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Interim Police Chief John Grote, with dispatcher Norma Lewis at the Yellow Springs Police Department. Members of the department say that officers have pulled together as the department entered a transition period this month.

Police Department coping with transition, officers say

Despite being short-staffed and with the abrupt departure of Police Chief Jim Miller, Yellow Springs police officials say that they are upbeat and that they are covering all shifts. But the officers also say that the department has not been able to provide two officers a shift on a consistent basis, except on the weekends.

Several officers stressed that this is not a new development caused by a shortage of personnel.

In addition, one officer said that morale has “greatly improved in the past few weeks,” about the time when Police Chief Jim Miller was placed on paid administrative leave. The officer, Al Pierce, attributed what he believes is a boost in morale to the leadership of Captain John Grote, who is serving as interim police chief while the Village searches for Miller’s replacement. Pierce said that Grote understands the needs of patrol officers in Yellow Springs, and has made it clear that he is open to suggestions from the staff.

Reached at home this week, Miller said that he had also been open to suggestions, but sometimes it was not possible to implement every idea. “In an organization, I think, it would be the exception to find everyone in the organization 100 percent in agreement with the head of the organization,” Miller said. “Many times the head of an organization has to make decisions that are not popular with everybody who works for him.”

Grote stressed that staff members have come together during this transition period. “I feel like this department has always pulled together in those transition periods when we didn’t have a chief or we were short-staffed,” said Grote, who has been on the force for more than 16 years.

A department in transition

Despite the abrupt decision by Miller to retire, Yellow Springs Police Department personnel appear to be handling the current transition well. “We haven’t skipped a beat,” said Sergeant Dennis Nipper, who has been on the force for 31 years. “It’s business as usual, for the patrol officers at least,” officer Tim Knoth said.

Earlier this month, the Village announced that Miller, who headed the Police Department since 1993, had been placed on administrative leave until he officially retires in September. The Village had given no indication of the news prior to the announcement on March 3. Nipper said that the news “shocked people” in the Police Department.

Because Miller is on leave, the department now has six officers available, including Grote, who is splitting his time between the street and the office, where he has administrative responsibilities. A year and a half ago, the department had nine officers, including Miller.

In January, the Village fired officer Matt Williams for allegedly abusing power and filing a false report about an incident that took place in February 2002. Williams has appealed his dismissal in a Greene County court.

In addition, another officer, Gerry Greene, has been serving with the National Guard for almost a year and a half since he was called to active duty shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. Greene is currently serving at the Air National Guard base in Springfield. Greene’s service is scheduled to end later this year, though Grote said he hopes Greene will be able to return to the Police Department in several months. Grote has been working Greene’s midnight shift since October 2001.

Because of current staffing levels, Grote is also “actively” reviewing applications and recruiting people for part-time positions. He would not specify the number of part-time officers he hopes to hire, saying that he is “trying to find good, strong candidates.”

Covering while short-handed

The officers interviewed for this story, including Grote, said that officers, using little overtime, are working together to cover shifts and provide what they call “road coverage.” Despite being short two people, most officers are still able to maintain a 40-hour work week.

The Police Department is covering all shifts, and sometimes scheduling two officers on duty, using a “swing shift,” which helps provide two officers on duty during busy times. Two officers work together on Fridays and Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., Grote said. The department was utilizing the swing process before Miller was placed on leave.

The department has three regular shifts: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. and 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. It uses the swing, or split, shift from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., which helps provide more personnel on the road when activities pick up. This is especially true on the weekends, when more people tend to be out.

Placing two officers on the road per shift is a long-standing goal of the Police Department. But police officers said that the department has not been able to meet this goal consistently for some time. This inconsistency can be attributed to a number of factors, including vacations and sick or personal days taken by officers, as well as being short-staffed.

“You don’t always meet your goals because we don’t have unlimited personnel and unlimited money,” Grote said.

Grote and Knoth said that the department needs seven officers to provide double coverage consistently. “Filling a seven-man rotation with six bodies is pretty hard to do,” Knoth said.

Officers had a hard time pinpointing an exact time period, but they said the lack of double coverage was not a new development. “It’s been the same since McKee’s days,” Grote said, referring to former Police Chief Jim McKee, who retired in 1993 after 34 years as chief.

Once a new chief is on board and Green returns to the force, Grote said the department would be able to provide two officers on the street more often.

Several officers said the double coverage is important for safety reasons. Nipper said it helps to have two officers respond to domestic violence calls and when making stops for suspected driving while intoxicated incidents.

But officers also stressed that the department is providing quality police service. And even if only one officer is on duty, backup is close by, Grote said.

“I think the village is still receiving good service,” Nipper said.

Officers say morale is high

The Yellow Springs Police Department has been making headlines lately, and it has not been all good news. Last fall the Village settled a sexual harassment suit filed by former police officer Kim Monhollen. Despite the settlement agreement, the Village denied Monhollen’s allegations. Then this year, the department lost two staff members, Williams and Miller.

Despite these incidents, most department personnel said that morale is high. They stressed that officers and dispatchers are working well together and continuing to focus on their responsibilities.

Dispatcher Norma Lewis said that she has not heard any “grumbling” about issues within the department. “We’re a dedicated Police Department and it’s showing,” she said.

Knoth, who has been in law enforcement for 11 years and was hired here in 1999, said that the veteran personnel are serving a good example. That’s good, since Knoth said he has been working different shifts and sometimes finds himself tired by the end of an eight-hour shift.

“You can’t hide the circles under your eyes but you’ve got to have a good disposition when you come to work or you shouldn’t come to work,” Knoth said.

Pierce attributed the high morale to the way Grote has approached his role as chief. “I believe the officers, including myself, are handling the transition well, because of the captain,” Pierce said.

Pierce, who has been on the force since 1991 and has worked 26 years in law enforcement, said that Miller underutilized the other officers, noting that the chief should have delegated responsibility more often. Pierce also stressed that Miller always treated him fairly and his comments were not personal.

Nipper declined to comment on Pierce’s comments, though he said, “Al’s close.”

Lewis agreed with Pierce, saying she thought that Grote is “spreading work around” to the officers and dispatchers. She attributed Grote’s approach to the fact that, as captain, he may be more in tune with staff members’ strengths and weaknesses.

Miller said that he delegated tasks when he thought it was appropriate. “I felt that I delegated the responsibilities where I felt responsibilities should have been delegated,” he said.

Grote tried to distance himself from comparisons between him and Miller, and would not comment on the delegation issue. Grote said that he and Miller have a different approach, a difference he stressed as “not better or worse,” just different.

Noting that “this is a group effort,” Grote said that he has been focusing on giving officers responsibilities that best match their skills. He described the Police Department as having a “flat structure” without a hierarchy. “We’re more equals here,” he said.

“I truly feel like everybody is pulling together,” he said.

—Robert Mihalek