Council to assess YSPD
- Published: February 14, 2019
Village Council continued to discuss the disciplinary process involving a local officer at its Monday, Feb. 4, meeting.
Council members addressed the reasons for the investigation and also decided to prioritize plans for an organizational assessment of the Yellow Springs Police Department.
Council member Lisa Kreeger originally pushed to earmark funds for an assessment of the YSPD during last fall’s budgeting. She said the assessment should now be “the top priority in our community.”
“We have had a horrible breakdown in trust between the police and the community and Council and our staff and we have to go after this,” she said.
Kreeger added that the recent disciplinary process involving Officer David Meister has revealed deeper issues within the YSPD.
“This is a very significant disruption and crisis in our community that I argue goes beyond any individual or group of individuals and points to a more deep-seated systemic issue that the Council has the responsibility to investigate,” Kreeger said.
Kreeger said the assessment, which should be completed by someone with “deep expertise in the field,” will cover budgets, processes, policies and skill sets, “a head to toe assessment of what is really going on.”
By email, Kreeger added that she will be looking for an individual or consulting firm that is “reform-minded” and “aligned with our policing values” and who would work with and report directly to Council. A total of $30,000 has been allocated.
Council Vice President Marianne MacQueen echoed Kreeger in saying it would be valuable to bring in an outside expert on police training and police policy, skills that Council members don’t have.
MacQueen added that she is not convinced there is a “vendetta” against Meister, but contended that because the perception of one exists, it is impacting the situation. She also defended Council’s involvement in the matter.
“The role of Village government is to provide essential services and policing is an essential service. And because there is a power dynamic in policing, it rises to the top,” MacQueen said.
Before the public meeting, Council met in executive session to discuss “the discipline of a public employee.”
Last week a pre-disciplinary hearing for Meister was set for Thursday, Feb. 7. The hearing officer will be Dayton attorney and mediator Jeff Hazlett, who was selected “upon recommendation and agreement of” Meister’s attorney, Dave Duwel, according to Village Manager Patti Bates last week.
Bates will make a decision about discipline after the hearing. Meister had elected for the hearing after receiving a letter from the Village in January informing him that he had allegedly violated policies related to ensuring public safety by not going on the call of a fatal shooting in the village in December.
Meister was off duty but still at the station when that call came in, and has stated that he was not authorized by a supervisor to work overtime and thus could not go, but would have gone if asked.
During the meeting, Council President Brian Housh defended the investigation and offered what he called clarifications regarding the incident, including the lack of prior road patrol experience of the officer on duty.
Housh added that he felt there had been “cherry picking of the policy” related to off-duty law enforcement actions from the YSPD Policy Manual.
“It says officers generally should not initiate law enforcement while off-duty. The issue we are talking about was already initiated,” Housh said.
The same section of the policy requires officers to take action when an incident may pose “a serious threat,” Housh said.
“Given that we are a safe community and that shots are not fired often, I think this applies very clearly to this situation,” Housh said.
From the floor, Nancy Lewis questioned whether it was legal for Bates to initiate the discipline against Meister, then asked Council members if they approved the investigation before it proceeded.
Bates responded that she does not need Council approval to initiate investigations of staff.
“Under the charter, the discipline of any employee is my purview,” she said.
MacQueen also defended the decision to investigate, saying, “there are codes of conduct and if someone breaches that, then that should be looked into.”
Pressed for more details by Lewis about what Council knew about the incident, MacQueen declined to go into discussions that she said took place in executive session.
Carlos Landaburu added that he hoped that the large volume of letters in support of Meister in Council’s packet would be added to the officer’s personnel file.
Other items from Council’s Feb. 4 meeting will be in next week’s News.