Palestine Police Department in turmoil, survey says

Published on Monday, 9 June 2014 14:49 - Written by KENNETH DEAN, kdean@tylerpaper.com

PALESTINE - The police department here is in turmoil as officers have lost confidence in their leader, according to statewide peace officers association’s survey of the department and the chief. 

Noel Johnson, Texas Municipal Police Association lead field representative, said today that Palestine Police Chief Robert Herbert received the most negative scores a chief has been given in more than a decade. 

Johnson said the association, which represents 21,000 officers statewide, was contacted by more than 15 officers in the department over the past year.

"This has been coming on for about a year, and we ended up conducting the survey,” he said. “The only sworn officer who refused to participate in the survey was the chief.”

Johnson said the results were astounding, as department members indicated they had 0 percent chance of high morale, and none of the respondents indicated they had confidence in Herbert to lead the department into the future.

Calls to Herbert were not returned today.

City Manager Wendy Ellis said she needed more details about the survey before she would form an opinion. 

Ms. Ellis said she wants to know why and how the state police association became involved.

Palestine Police Association members said that in the 28 months the chief has been on the job, 17 officers have left.

"Turnover is always something a small town has to deal with when it comes to officers," Ms. Ellis noted. 

Ms. Ellis was hired full-time in November as the city manager, but on tonight's City Council agenda, the employment of her and the police chief are scheduled to be discussed in executive session.

Johnson said he had several meetings with Ms. Ellis, and her support was behind the officers, but she said the survey was all the perspective of one group.

"There are two sides of the story, but if the survey is correct, then we need an action plan to address the issues, but that will take some time," she said.

Ms. Ellis did confirm at least one complaint had been filed against Chief Herbert from a female employee, but she said she would not "categorize it as sexual harassment."

Johnson said the Texas Municipal Police Association has attempted to sit down with Chief Herbert to discuss the survey and how and what changes could be implemented to help the department and the chief, but he has refused to speak with association representatives. 

Johnson said there were rumblings the discord was due to Chief Herbert being an African-American, while the majority of the makeup of the department is white.

However, Johnson said the association’s survey showed the officers would love to see Lt. James Muniz, who is African-American, elevated to chief, since confidence in Muniz is high within the department. 

"We contend that this is not a racial issue, but a managerial issue and the survey indicates Chief Herbert does not have the confidence of the officers he is leading," he said. 

The Palestine city council is scheduled to 5:30 p.m. today at the City Council Chambers at 504 N. Queen St.