Tag Archives: Tyler Kinney

Mayberry follies

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.

Chuck Kirker.

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.

The Colchester Police Department (not exactly as illustrated)

Chief Kirker and company (not exactly as illustrated)

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.

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Ethics, shmethics: Legislative edition

Maybe it’s my inner flatlander, accustomed to the sometimes shady dealings in other states’ politics, but I get even more cynical than usual on the subject of ethics in the legislature.

The subject comes to mind today because of Paul Heintz’ excellent column in this week’s Seven Days, which chronicles the fitful, woefully inadequate first steps of the newly minted House Ethics Panel.

Until now, as Heintz reports, “Vermont was one of just 10 states without any sort of internal legislative ethics committee empowered to investigate potential wrongdoing… [and] remains one of just eight states without an external ethics commission.” (Emphasis his.)

The House panel barely qualifies as an overseer of ethics. Its chair, David Deen, hopes to keep investigations secret “to protect from public embarrassment those who are wrongly accused.”

Oh, that’s nice. We wouldn’t want one of our public servants to suffer embarrassment. What say we apply the same standard to court cases? If a lawmaker needs to be shielded from “public embarrassment” over an ethical matter, how much worse is the potential embarrassment of, say, a charge of murder?

I’d also remind the good Representative of something that often gets lost under the Golden Dome of Silence: these people work for us, and should be answerable to us. If that includes the occasional “public embarrassment,” well, tough.

The purest form of insular Statehouse sentiment comes from the Senate, which remains blissfully unencumbered by any sort of ethics committee. President Pro Tem John Campbell assures us that “Vermont is one of the cleanest states.”

No way to prove that, of course.  Not without an ethics panel. Which we don’t need, because John Campbell says so.

I really don’t know if Vermont is a particularly clean state. We certainly have our share of public corruption, especially in situations where no one is on guard — such as the numerous cases of embezzlement by small-town officials or the odd drug addict overseeing a police evidence storage room.

Most of our public servants do have good intentions and work hard for very little reward, but there’s a whole lot of potential for ethical violations baked into our system. Lawmakers routinely cast votes that have an effect on their non-legislative work. They spend a substantial amount of time with lobbyists, and many friendships result. (Campbell is, I’ve been told, best buds with one of the top Black Hats in town.) They depend heavily on those lobbyists for political contributions and for policy advice, since all but the top leaders have no staff support.

To some extent, Vermont has some measure of protection from serious scandal because it’s such a small place. But in other ways, our smallness makes us more vulnerable. Example: the Colchester Police Department brusquely dismissed initial complaints about Tyler Kinney because, well, he was One Of Us and couldn’t possibly have been a thief and addict who compromised countless criminal investigations.

Except he was.

There may be no big undiscovered scandals at the Statehouse, but there is a faintly rancid smell about the clubbiness of the place. It could use the occasional blast of fresh air. And we could use an ethics panel with independence, transparency, and a good sharp set of teeth.

The most pertinent questions about the Colchester cop

I sense the fine handiwork of the WPTZ graphics department.

I sense the fine handiwork of the WPTZ graphics department.

Every time I read about the case of Tyler Kinney, the Colchester officer who faces federal drug and gun charges, the same thing keeps coming to mind.

How in the blue hell did this go on so long?

Here’s a guy who was on the force for twelve years, and occupied one of its most sensitive positions — keeper of the evidence locker — for two and a half years. He was stealing stuff out of the locker, he had a “heroin addiction for an extended period of time,” and he was sharing his swag with a career criminal with a rap sheet as long as your arm and two felony convictions.

On top of all that, Kinney’s addiction and malfeasance came to light accidentally, after an unrelated search of the career criminal’s home. Absent that coincidence, Kinney might have gone on stealing stuff and destroying God knows how many prosecutions that depended on secure evidence storage.

News coverage of the case, so far, has focused on Kinney himself. But what of the institutional framework around him?

The overarching question breaks down into two parts.

1. What kind of internal oversight does the Colchester police have on its evidence locker and the sole keeper thereof?

2. What is the department’s drug testing policy for its officers? Does it have any? How often does it conduct tests? What drugs does it test for?

the_whizzinator_83385And how are the tests conducted? Is the officer monitored while, ahem, providing a sample? Or is there opportunity to game the test via the Whizzinator route?

The Colchester Police Department should answer these questions in detail. Necessary reforms must be enacted. If internal policies were not followed, those responsible should answer for their inactions.

Lest we lay all of this at the feet of Colchester Police Chief Jennifer Morrison, allow me to note that she’s only been there for a little over a year. The previous Chief, Charles Kirker, who had been chief for the previous 34 years, needs to give some answers too. Especially in light of this sentence from a softball Burlington Free Press interview on the occasion of his retirement:

My philosophy has always been to delegate to subordinates because you allow them to grow.

Yeah, nothing could possibly go wrong with that.

Beyond Colchester, the same questions should be put to the Department of Public Safety. What are the standards for the State Police? Are there standards that local police agencies must meet?

If not, why not?

If a drug-addicted officer can occupy a critical position of trust for two and a half years, only to be caught by accident, then either there was a complete breakdown in the Colchester police, or there are systemic shortcomings that must be addressed.

That’s all. I’ll hand this over to the watchdogs of the media.