Bluffton police chief draws fire over handling of resignations of two officers

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Bluffton police chief draws fire over handling of resignations of two officers

By DANIEL BROWNSTEIN dbrownstein@islandpacket.com 843-706-8125
Published Wednesday, October 17, 2007 in The Island Packet  |  532 Words  |  news/local

Bluffton Police Chief David McAllister has come under fire for the way he handled the resignations of two black police officers last week.
Neither officer was allowed to work their final two weeks -- although they were paid for the time -- and one was escorted from Bluffton High School by McAllister and Sgt. Bryan Norberg, both of whom are white.
Department policy doesn't allow officers who resign to finish their two weeks in any operational position because of the potential for misconduct, McAllister said Tuesday. But from now on, they will allowed to complete their tenure at a desk job, depending on past performance and the circumstances, he said.
Cpl. Thomas Loving and Sgt. Gerry Brown, long-time officers with the department, have accepted jobs at the Hardeeville Police Department, positions that include pay raises.
Brown headed up Bluffton's traffic enforcement detail. Loving was the school resource officer assigned to the Bluffton schools campus.
Members of Bluffton's black community who came to a Town Council meeting Tuesday took particular issue with Loving being escorted from the school while it was in session, an action they said humiliated him and gave students the false impression he'd something wrong.
Students who witnessed or heard about it were upset, said Joe L. Green, father of a high school student.
"Now we have disbelief because, if you take a man like Officer Loving and do that to him, imagine what you're going to do to me," he said of some students' reactions. "... (Loving's) one of yours."
Neither officer could be reached for comment Tuesday night.
"It would have been a whole lot better had we not gathered up his stuff and walked him out while the students were there," said town manager Bill Workman. "That was just an error in judgment and it won't be done again."
McAllister apologized for the way Loving's resignation was handled.
"He wasn't escorted out," the chief said. "He and I talked in front of the school for awhile and I wished him well. It's grown into something it was not."
The chief described both men as "good police officers" who will be assets in Hardeeville.
Since McAllister joined the department in February 2006, the force has lost 14 officers, six of whom are black. A seventh was Hispanic.
Approximately five of those 14 were pressured to leave because of allegations of misconduct, the chief said.
In turn, the department has hired 23 officers, 12 of whom are from demographics underrepresented in police forces, such as minorities and women, the chief said.
Councilman Fred Hamilton, Jr., who is black, said he wasn't jumping to conclusions on whether the incidents were racially motivated and said the bigger issue is creating a department where officers don't have to look elsewhere for better pay.
"We want to improve the police department so everyone feels there's room to expand and grow," he said. "For our police department to develop rapport with our community, we can't have a revolving door."
Officer Anthony Cotton is the department's new school resource officer. He had been trained for the position prior to Loving's departure.