You might think that when a mayor says “everybody in the Police Department will be subject to questioning” it would be a sign of accountability. Not so fast.
Then-Wautaga Police Chief Rande Benjamin was unanimously demoted to lieutenant last month after the city council received a no-confidence complaint [PDF] signed by 29 of the city’s police officers. The Aug. 10 letter to the city council alleged that an officer had his promotion to detective rescinded after he openly opposed Benjamin’s less-lenient pursuit policy, that Benjamin ordered a hidden microphone be installed in the patrol room to snoop on officers’ conversations, and that commanding officers, apparently under Benjamin’s orders, deny that such a microphones had been installed. The complain also alleges excessive disciplinary actions taken against others at the behest of Benjamin.
Such “hot pursuits” that Benjamin may have opposed are suspected of further endangering innocent people on the roadway. In 2006, Dallas implemented one the nation’s most restrictive police chase policies, limiting pursuits to those suspected of violent felonies.
Whether the backlash came amid Benjamin seeking to reign in potential police misconduct or if it was an indication of a vindictive police chief seeking to punish dissenters is not exactly clear. Benjamin has been silent in the media, so we do not have his side of the story.
On Tuesday, Sept. 7, the city council voted 5-1 to hire an independent investigator to review the conduct of the whole department, according to a Star-Telegram article. The Wautaga Police Officers Association opposes a sweeping review and wants to focus on Benjamin and his top officers instead. It is still unknown when or if the results of that investigation, which is being paid for with city funds, will be made available to the public.
The Wautaga Police Department has been a source of embarrassment for the city for the past few months. In July and August, separate charges against a local activist accused of displaying a political sign at a precinct polling location, contrary to a city ordinance, on the March 2 primary was tossed out of court for being in violation of the state election code.