WILKES-BARRE, PA — Animosity between Police Chief Marcella Lendacky and the union that represents the city’s police officers certainly hasn’t subsided as evidenced by the union’s reaction to the recent news of an excessive force investigation.
“If the officer’s behavior was so egregious, he should have been immediately pulled off the street and assigned to administrative duty or given administrative leave,” said Police Benevolent Association President Phil Myers, a sergeant on the force. “This was mishandled from the beginning.”
The FBI is investigating an officer after a surveillance video allegedly showed the officer treating a woman with unnecessary force after she was detained and being placed in a cell in mid-March 2016. The investigation was turned over to the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office, who forwarded it to the FBI, according to Myers.
Lendacky disagrees with Myers assessment of the department’s handling of the incident.
“There was an internal investigation, and the officer was put on a restriction,” she said Monday. “It’s now in the hands of the FBI, and we’ll wait to hear their decision.”
The strained relationship goes back to at least when Lendacky was appointed interim chief by Mayor Tony George in early 2016.
In a 13-page letter at the time, the union questioned Lendacky’s ability to serve as chief and maintain the morale of the force.
“Officers and employees are disgusted. Members, who looked forward to what the day would bring, now no longer want to come to work. For many, a professional career has become nothing more than a job,” the letter said.
Officer Dan Duffy, vice president of the PBA, said shortly after that letter was drafted and prior to it being voted on by the union’s membership, George moved Lendacky from interim status to permanent chief in early March.
“If you looked back, her appointment wasn’t a big planned thing,” he said. “It seems to have been in response to the letter.”
In December, the union went before city council requesting an investigation of Lendacky.
They were reminded that the police chief serves at the pleasure of the mayor, but members of council did listen to their concerns.
As for George, he recently said, “I’m behind her 1,000, 2,000 percent.”
George said he believes that Lendacky is being targeted because she’s a woman and because she requires that proper procedure be followed.
“For the last while, the department wasn’t following proper policy,” he said. “Now the chief is requiring that everything be done properly.”
Duffy, said the chief doesn’t make good use of the time and energy of officers under her, requiring unnecessary paperwork.
Both Myers and Duffy said during Lendacky’s tenure as chief, police have failed to be timely trained in CPR, first aid and the use of Tasers.
Lendacky said training information was originally withheld when she requested it.
“We’re almost all caught up now,” she said. “More training was requested by the union, and we’re providing it.”
Lendacky said that some officers have criticized the use of online training, but that she believes that the training is both effective and saves the department money.
“We saved nearly $6,000 using the online training during one year,” she said.
Both Duffy and Myers questioned Lendacky’s sending officers to “hot spots” — areas where crime is anticipated either because of its history or activity.
“We’re simply taking officers from the back areas and putting them in the front areas,” she said. “So they can be seen.”
Lendacky gave the example of several Turkey Hills having been robbed in a short period of time.
“So we were keeping an eye on Turkey Hills,” she said. “That makes sense.”
Lendacky said the effort to challenge her as police chief is really the result of about seven officers in the department. Overall, she said, she believes that she has the support of the community.
From The Times Leader