JACKSONVILLE, FL — The Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police took a vote of no confidence over the weekend, expressing frustration with how Mayor Gary Fletcher and City Attorney Robert Bamburg have handled the department.
Tension reached a tipping point last Thursday when officers received an email announcing “duty assignment modifications,” a reorganization of the department affecting patrol officers, tactical teams, the criminal investigation division and more.
Bamburg, the acting police director, told officers in the email that he had been considering the changes “for some time now” but was hoping for a different outcome in the city’s appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court to get the mayor’s choice for police chief back in the position. The state’s high court ended up affirming a Pulaski County Circuit Court decision to remove Geoffrey Herweg from the job. He was ruled ineligible to hold the position because of a misdemeanor conviction of falsifying a police report in 2002 in Texas.
The department’s criminal investigations division and narcotics unit are being combined, according to the email, and the take-home vehicle program is ending except for certain captains, the K-9 division, school resource officers and other special units.
Bamburg acknowledged in the email that the changes are difficult, but said they’re necessary to make law enforcement more effective. But Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police leaders claim that Bamburg is the one who is ineffective, as he has no experience leading a police department and, the union claims, has no interest in corresponding with officers.
“Mayor Fletcher, rather that attempting to heal the department[,] has caused further turmoil by allowing Robert Bamburg to continue as Director of the JPD instead of appointing one of the two Captains — who have a total of over 60 years of experience at the JPD,” the president of the police group, Robert Washington, said in a press release. “A year and an Arkansas Supreme Court ruling later, the Circuit Court ruling was confirmed[.] This has manifested in many adverse situations mostly due to Director Bamburg’s unavailability, his lack of management experience, and his lack of knowledge of how to lead a police agency.”
Washington addressed the staffing changes, claiming that the position swapping could be a detriment to safety.
He wrote in the press release: “These Detectives are experienced and Certified as a Crime Scene Technician, Certified Forensic Child Interviewer, Certified Computer Voice Stress Analysis (CVA) and Cellebrite Forensic Investigations (CFI) and in addition one of these Detectives managed the 70 Sex Offenders that we have in our City. These Certifications are costly to the taxpayers. The Computer Stress Analysis (CVA) and the (CFI) alone cost the taxpayers over $24,000 and two Detectives just completed this class prior to being transferred. Without the Certifications successful adjudication of criminal cases could be problematic.”
Washington continued: “Fletcher and Bamburg will say that they have researched or heard that transfers are necessary in a Police Department; while this may be possible in some circumstances-it is incomprehensible that a transfer occurs less than 2 days prior to the effective date. Police Officers are real people too; several are single parents and they must arrange child care and other day-to-day matters. None of these concerns were taken into account by Fletcher or Bamburg.”
“Even though the JPD is facing these adverse circumstances the FOP would like to inform the citizens of Jacksonville that we will strive to provide the same exceptional service to you because our professionalism remains intact. We do not remain at JPD because of the great pay, we stay and serve because we love the City and its citizens and we refuse to allow poor management to detract from who we are and what we do.”
Fletcher defended the changes, taking responsibility for the action.
“For those receiving calls & questions, Bobby announced a number of Duty Assignment Modifications yesterday to address needs at the Police Department. He did so with my approval and input after lengthy study and analysis, having first proposed these changes to me several months ago. The Duty modifications follow what Law Enforcement experts say is the best way to operate a Department. He’s created a plan to insure more Patrol officers are on the streets, Patrol Shifts are balanced better as to experience, Field Training Officers (FTOs) are spread about evenly for referrals and assistance to newer officers, racial and gender balances now exist on the Shifts, and employees are put in positions to gain more experience and become more versatile officers. To do so, several Support positions were temporarily eliminated to put more officers in Patrol and CID where the greater needs exist, and one (1) School Resource Officer (SROs) position has been reassigned because of other Department needs. As I’ve argued to the School District for a long time, even before the new one was created, the City can’t continue to bear the costs of SROs alone.
In addition, for budget purposes, Take Home vehicles have been eliminated for many positions, leaving only the Captains, the K9 officers, the SROs and Narcotics with that privilege. Our costs for gas and auto repair/maintenance need to be reduced, as funds to replace those vehicles simply aren’t available right now. As well, the privilege of having one had been extended beyond the need: we had over Thirty (30) employees at the PD with Take Home vehicles. Department vehicles will now remain at the Station ready for business use during working hours so the vehicles can be shared and fewer vehicles used, resulting in reduced expenses. Department employees can, as almost all other City employees do, use their personal vehicles to get to and from work. We don’t provide that privilege in most other City Departments, and we just can’t afford to continue doing so at the Police Department.
These changes are part of the day-to-day operation of the Police Department, something Bobby and I are responsible for, and I believe they are best for the City, the Department, our employees, and, most importantly, our citizens. Though the recent Court ruling didn’t go as I’d hoped, we can’t continue to delay making changes to improve the service and protection our Police Department provide to our citizens.”