Union, Police Chief at Odds

Posted June 27, 2008 at 5:34pm

The Capitol Police union is considering a vote of no confidence in Chief Phillip Morse, the latest hint of low morale on a force that is facing questions over its management and hiring practices.

In publicly announcing the possibility of a no-confidence vote last week, the union risks souring its relationship with department officials. But union members are “highly upset” at the way the force has changed under Morse’s leadership, said Matt Tighe, chairman of the Capitol Police Labor Committee.

Morse took over the force in October 2006 from Terrance Gainer, now the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms.

“The membership feels there’s no clear direction on this department anymore,” Tighe said. “The term kicked around last night was ‘devoid of leadership.’ They feel lost.”

Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said the considered vote was a union issue and thus the department had no comment.

About 900 first-line officers are members of the union — a “vast majority” of the rank and file, Tighe said. All will get a chance to give their opinion of Morse in the union’s upcoming survey, which they expect to be completed by July 6. The union will then consider a no-confidence vote.

The union has never before had such a vote, and Tighe couldn’t remember a time it was considered in his almost 10 years on the force. But he said that members have been disenchanted with Morse’s leadership for months, complaining particularly about a lack of contact between the chief and the rank and file.

Recent troubles at the department have brought employees’ worries to the forefront. Last week, the department revealed that dozens of recruits were hired under less than adequate hiring standards.

Last week, 15 of those recruits were asked to resign. Police officials pointed to an in-depth investigation that discovered they had failed background, psychological or physical tests. Such tests are supposed to be completed and vetted before officers are hired.

The recruits had been hired months ago, however, and had already completed some two months of training — at a cost of about $6 million, according to one officer familiar with the incident.

Blame has fallen on former Human Resources Director Jennifer McCarthy, who was removed from her post and temporarily replaced by Deputy Chief Matthew Verderosa.

The department now faces the appeals of the recruits, who claim they weren’t given sufficient reasoning for their termination. Some quit their jobs and moved from other states to join the force.

Seven recruits have retained attorney John Berry, who once represented the Capitol Police union.

A week later, Berry said that many of the recruits still do not know the details of why they were asked to resign.

In a letter to one of the recruits, supplied by Berry, Verderosa wrote that the recruit did not meet the “minimum requirements” of the psychological examination. Another letter cites a “falsification of application” and a past criminal misdemeanor. Neither specifies the crime or the psychological test failure, Berry noted.

“Two recruits are alleged to have had psychological issues. It made me sick,” he said.

On Friday, as part of the appeals process, Berry submitted a “request for reconsideration” to the department and the House and Senate oversight committees.

Capitol Police officials have declined to comment, citing a policy of not talking about personnel issues.

But Gainer said in an interview last week that the issue with the recruits first became apparent when training officials noticed a dropout rate that was higher than average.

Tighe has called the recruit situation “terrible” and is fighting to represent the recruits, who are probationary employees and thus may not fall under the protection of the Fraternal Order of Police union.

“I think it’s unfortunate that things have progressed to this point,” Tighe said. “Membership is highly upset.”