KCBD INVESTIGATES: Two different models for accountability in police departments

Updated: Aug. 27, 2020 at 7:11 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Racial tensions among citizens and police officers have sparked national debate over police reform and put a microscope of scrutiny on police conduct across the country.

So, what happens when an officer is investigated internally, or even found guilty of misconduct? The KCBD Investigates team dives into the process of police discipline at two local departments.

Any police chief will tell you terminating a police officer can be a complicated matter, but just how complicated depends on how a department is set up.

There are two types under Texas law: Civil Service and non-Civil Service. Meaning, the rules are not the same for everyone.

In December of 1947, the City of Lubbock held an election where citizens voted in favor of the Police Department becoming a Civil Service agency, an option available to cities with a paid police force and a population of 10,000 or more.

“It just means there are certain aspects and certain criteria that have to be met before they can be removed from their position,” said LPD Lieutenant Leath McClure.

Lt. McClure has served the LPD for 15 years; a Civil Service force that has grown to be the largest between Ft. Worth, Texas and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Under Chapter 143 of the Texas Local Government code for Civil Service, Lubbock must follow a formalized set of standards for managing its men and women in uniform. Reflecting the idea that a police force functions best when it’s free from political influence and staffed based on merit and tenured status.

“That doesn’t mean that status can’t be removed. It just determines what you can be fired for, what options you have to appeal whether it’s through the city manager, city hall, an arbitrator, or the civil service commission,” added Lt. McClure.

Taking decisions like hiring, promoting and dismissing officers away from one single person.

But, just next door to Lubbock, Wolfforth Police Chief, Rick Scott does not answer to Civil Service standards.

“I am fortunate here that I make the hiring and firing decisions here. I do know the processes that we do have to go through here, for example, disciplining an officer and how much different they are from the civil service side.”

Scott says while his department does have to follow certain city statutes, Wolfforth PD is not governed by the rules, paperwork and procedures that come with Civil Service. Something he says is a good thing, ”It’s my opinion that it’s a little easier here than if we have a problem officer, or somebody that’s not working out to take care of that problem.”

A process that is much more complicated for cities like Lubbock.

“That stuff takes time to investigate before we can actually make a decision on what’s going to happen with those officers. We can remove them from the streets so we don’t have to worry about any further instances, but that officer has a right to due process,” Lt. McClure said.

And, in some cases, due process means overturning the recommendations of a Police Chief.

The KCBD Investigates team made open records requests for the entire personnel files of two former Lubbock officers, both recommended for termination by two different chiefs.

Allegations against them ranged from procedural violations, like failing to take a police report and failing to submit a report, to drunken threats made at a local bar, and even assault on duty which was deemed excessive force.

Sifting through hundreds of pages in both files revealed it took years to finally terminate the officers, one of whom is still in litigation with the City of Lubbock almost two decades after his first incident. Years of back and forth legal wrangling, all allowed under chapter 143 of the Civil Service code - a system that allowed the two officers back on the streets after the chief’s recommendation was overturned.

Regardless of the officer, Lt. McClure reminds us following the rules under Chapter 143 is the law.

“They are granted due process, just like anyone else would be if they were in the court system.”

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