Smyrna hires NJ firm to investigate police department

Norman Wood

SMYRNA — The Town of Smyrna will spend up to $20,000 to investigate concerns raised by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 22 last year that brought a no-confidence vote in Chief Norman E. Wood.

With no public discussion at its June 19 meeting, Town Council approved the hiring of New Jersey-based Protocol Security Partners LLC to investigate the Smyrna Police Department. Only councilwoman Valerie White opposed the motion.

Council agreed to amend the town budget to pay for the probe, moving money from unfilled positions as well as an unrelated study that was approved.

On Wednesday, Chief Wood opted not to comment on the investigation or its subject matter, but said that the town’s law enforcement agency was operating efficiently.

“The people of the Town of Smyrna can rest assured that their police department is fully operational, fully functioning and providing all police services available to the citizens for their protection and safety,” he said.

Also Wednesday, the police union acknowledged the investigation regarding its concerns.

“The entire Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 22 and the men and the women of the Smyrna Police Department are fully cooperating with the current investigation as we have over the past year and we are all optimistic for a positive outcome,” President Brandon Dunning said.

“Until this matter is fully resolved we will refrain from making any further comments at this time.”

Controversy arose after the FOP issued Chief Wood’s no-confidence vote in a 15-0 tally with six abstentions on June 22, 2016.

In an executive session with town council on July 18, 2016, the FOP pointed to a supposed lack of communication, personnel and staffing concerns, violations of policy and procedure, failure to train, and inoperable and/or outdated equipment.

Referencing the chief of police directly, the FOP said, “The lack of leadership displayed by Chief Wood and the lack of unity and consistency among our top leadership has created a culture within the department that is not conducive to our overall mission of public safety.”

An investigation by the Delaware Attorney General’s Office concluded earlier this year that there was insufficient evidence for a criminal prosecution. An AG letter dated March 27 took no position on whether Chief Wood violated any departmental policies or procedures and noted that the allegations raise “legitimate concerns about the operations of the Smyrna Police Department.”

On its website, Protocol Security Partners promoted that it “is dedicated to maintaining our professional reputation in the Investigative, Consulting, and Training fields consistent with our company motto, ‘Vigilance, Integrity, Respect.’ ”

According to the company, “All investigators are retired FBI agents as well as state and local law enforcement specialists.”

Council responses

Councilman Alvin C. Pope said Wednesday, there was “nothing new to report. We don’t have any new information.“

Whether the results and findings of an investigation will be made public is in question.

“That all depends on the council and what it can do,” Mr. Pope said. “I can’t speak to that because there are other council members who will (also) be part of that decision.”

Reached by phone and asked for comment or an update, councilman Robert C. Johnson replied, “I’m going to leave that up to the mayor and legal counsel to respond.”

Town attorney Barrett Edwards – who replaced retired John T. Jaywork (still listed on the town’s web site) could not be reached for comment, along with Mayor John Embert III.

Confirming her “no” vote but declining to explain it, councilwoman Valerie White said, “Because it is an ongoing investigation, I am not able to comment at this time.”

Also mum was councilman William D. Pressley Sr., who responded, “We are doing what we need to do so we can move forward.”

Council decided that the investigation should not be limited to only the FOP’s stated concerns.

Former 20-year Smyrna PD member Phillip Klink filed a federal lawsuit against Chief Wood, two officers (a lieutenant and corporal) and the Town of Smyrna on March 1. The 10-page action referenced an officer’s alleged suspected sexual activity while working, supposed profanity-laced threats and secret recordings, along with firearms-related violations, among other complaints.

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