Nice long story in yesterday’s Burlington Free Press on the Colchester Police Department, one year after the shocking arrest of veteran officer Tyler Kinney, who was allegedly stealing drugs, guns and money from the evidence room he was responsible for. Reporter Elizabeth Murray chronicled the struggles of Chief Jennifer Morrison in bringing the department’s policies and procedures up to date.
Nice, so far as it went. But there was one person completely absent from the story who should have played a substantial role.
For those just joining us, Kirker had served in the Colchester Police Department for 43 years, and had been Chief for 34 years when he retired in 2013. And, to judge by the Kinney case and yesterday’s Free Press piece, he was doing a terrible job.During his tenure on the force, the CPD grew from four staffers to 28. But apparently he was still running the place like Andy of Mayberry. Many departmental policies, Murray reports, “hadn’t been updated in 20 years or more.” Morrison has led the department through “multiple rounds of training and leadership development.” Evidence storage has been completely overhauled, with security cameras, a bar-coding system, tamper-proof evidence bags, and a double-locking system that doesn’t allow anyone to have solo access to the room. And:
Personnel evaluations also have become more regular, and employees have been allowed to give feedback on the evaluation process to refine the system. Before Kinney’s arrest, no one had received an evaluation in 20 years.
Yikes: no personnel evaluations for 20 years? That helps explain how Tyler Kinney could have kept control of the CPD’s evidence storage for several years before his gross malfeasance was brought to light.
Well, as Kirker said in an exit interview with the Free Press:
My philosophy has always been to delegate to subordinates because you allow them to grow.
Sounds nice, but there’s a fine line between delegation and dereliction.
Morrison gamely refuses to blame her predecessor for the mess she’s cleaning up. And I’m sure Chuck Kirker is a prince of a fellow. But he joined the CPD when it was a two-bit operation, and it looks like he absolutely failed to keep pace with changing times and a rapidly growing community. I hope he’s enjoying his “well-earned” retirement.
The full cost of Kinney’s criminality has yet to be felt. Morrison has put all the Department’s new evidence through the new process, but the leftovers from the Kinney era remain in cardboard boxes, unreviewed. How many criminal cases were irredeemably compromised by Kinney?
Beyond Colchester, this makes me wonder how many other precincts in our often-hidebound state are in the same place as the pre-scandal CPD. Any thoughts, Chief Morrison?
“In the weeks following Tyler’s arrest, I had countless colleagues say, ‘This could have been any of us. This could have happened to any of us,’” Morrison said. “And not just the opiate addiction piece of it, but a person in a position of trust within an organization who goes rogue.”
So, who’s in charge of police procedures in Vermont? Who ensures that police agencies are doing the right thing in training, management and security? Who checks that the agencies are keeping up with new developments in crime-fighting and evidence processing? Not to mention the little stuff like proper use of force, deployment of firearms and Tasers, and diversity training? Who, as they say, watches the watchers?
And will it take more Kinney-type scandals to reveal the hidden rot in the system?
Comparing Chief Kirker to Sheriff Andy of Mayberry seems an unfair slight against the good Sheriff Taylor.
Sheriff Taylor ran the sheriff’s department with honor and compassion while focused on serving the community. Yes, his deputy may have kept evidence in his desk drawer next to a slice of aunt Bee’s pie, but come on, Andy administrated admirably.
Maybe a better simile would be that the place was run as if it was the 1930s in the rural south?
It’d be a tighter simile if Barney was the sheriff and Otis Campbell was the deputy.