Smyrna cops at odds with police chief

 

Smyrna Police Chief Norman Wood said he addressed the Smyrna Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 21 concerns with the town’s mayor and council. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

Smyrna Police Chief Norman Wood said he addressed the Smyrna Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 21 concerns with the town’s mayor and council. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

SMYRNA — The Town of Smyrna police officer’s union said it is awaiting a response from town officials after concerns about its police chief were raised in a closed meeting 11 weeks ago.

On July 18, Smyrna’s mayor and town council, Smyrna Police Chief Norman E. Wood and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 22 members met to discuss the union’s vote of no-confidence in the chief.

Brandon L. Dunning, acting president of the FOP Lodge 22, said the 15-0 vote, with six abstentions, was taken on June 22. Chief Wood, who belongs to the organization, was not present.

“We are not at liberty to go into detail regarding what was discussed in this executive session,” said Mr. Dunning in a prepared statement Thursday. “To the best of our knowledge, it is an ongoing personnel issue.

“We are still awaiting a response from Town Council regarding the issues we presented to them at the July 18th meeting. Our members continue to remain optimistic that each and every one of the issues we presented to Mayor and Council will soon be addressed and corrected.”

Chief Wood would not discuss the issue Thursday, but in a statement said that he met with Mayor Joanne Masten and council on July 25.

“The session was held, the concerns were addressed and a conclusion was reached,” said Chief Wood in the statement.

He said he would not disclose details because it is a personnel matter.

Mayor Masten declined comment Thursday.

An FOP letter to the mayor and town council, originally read at the July 18 meeting, was obtained by the Delaware State News this week. In his Thursday statement, Chief Wood said the concerns in the letter were discussed.

The letter outlines the FOP complaints at length.

“Our lack of confidence in Chief Wood’s ability to lead our agency is a direct result of his inability to establish a strategic organizational mission, failure to lead by example, inability to inspire and motivate others, poor communication skills and failure to coach/develop his employees,” the FOP stated in the letter.

“Although these characteristics are difficult to quantify, they are deemed critically important for leaders to exhibit and to the overall success of any organization.

“More specific areas of concern for our membership is his lack of adherence to or holding others accountable to our own identified core values of; Integrity, Human Life, Accountability, Community Partnerships, and Professionalism.

“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.”

Detailing concerns

The FOP detailed concerns including lack of communication, personnel and staffing concerns, violations of policy and procedure, failure to train, and inoperable or expired/outdated equipment in its presentation at the executive session.

Describing discussion in executive session as a personnel matter, Chief Wood said “findings are withheld from the general public.

“Any further information should be directed to the Smyrna Town Council. No further comment will be given.”

Council member Valerie E. White declined comment on Thursday, and other members did not immediately respond to requests for response via email.

Regarding the leak itself, the FOP said, “We are discouraged that this sensitive information was released to the public and can assure you this was not authorized by our organization.”

The Smyrna Police force is comprised of 23 officers and eight civilians for a growing population of approximately 14,000 in northernmost Kent County.

Mr. Dunning believes, “Ultimately the job and goal of our membership is to protect and serve the Town of Smyrna and we hope to be able to do that with the upmost professionalism at all levels of our organization and local government.”

Through the years, Smyrna Police have come embroiled in public controversies.

In February 2015 ACLU of Delaware settled two lawsuits against Smyrna PD regarding three separate alleged wrongful arrests beginning in August 2013.

A court order mandated that Smyrna PD host a meeting with a police practices expert covering how officers interact with the public, among other stipulations.

The ACLU declined comment on the current matter on Thursday, as did the Delaware Police Chief’s Council.

Chief Richard S. Baldwin Jr. retired abruptly on Sept. 6, 2010 before the case of an extortion plot against him that included his ex-girlfriend and two others brought convictions.

In Nov. 2010, the Delaware Department of Justice investigated claims that town officials allegedly violated Freedom of Information Act guidelines connected to the hiring of Mr. Baldwin’s replacement.

In October 2007, an officer was cleared of alleged sexual misconduct connected to a prescription drug investigation.

On June 28, 2007, the Smyrna Police Employees union representing sworn officers sent a letter urging the then-mayor to investigate allegations surrounding Mr. Baldwin’s conduct during the investigation of a personal friend.

In Sept. 2006, an officer was arrested and charged with official misconduct for allegedly interfering in a traffic stop made by Clayton Police early in the month.

The promotion of a black officer to deputy chief in December 2006 prompted claims of racism when town council members discussed leaving the vacant position open.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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