December 20, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
29°F
test

Grievances swamp Amherst police chief

AMHERST — Amherst Police Chief Joe Kucirek has had to deal with more than a dozen union grievances since he took over running the department in 2011.

Kucirek

Kucirek said he believes the grievances stem from discontent among some of his officers over changes he’s made in the department.

“I think that my perception of accountability is different than what people are used to,” he said.

But Jeff Perry, an Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association representative, said that morale has fallen significantly among Amherst’s rank-and-file officers since Kucirek replaced former Police Chief Lonnie Dillon.

“He obviously has different priorities than the prior chief,” Perry said. “I think Chief Dillon kept very good standards and the department had a good reputation.”

Perry said that Kucirek’s changes often aren’t communicated to the officers until they run afoul of the new rules.

A grievance quintet

Of the grievances provided to The Chronicle-Telegram, five of them involve Officer Josh McCoy, who is suing the city in federal court because he contends the city was violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by not paying him for working beyond 40 hours per week to care for Buddy, the police dog he had been partnered with since 2010.

Kucirek disbanded the K-9 unit around the same time McCoy sued.

McCoy’s most recent grievance, filed last week, accuses Kucirek of making negative comments about McCoy to reporters. The grievance contends that under the contract, Kucirek had a duty to “minimize the amount of information provided” about the dispute, rather than making negative comments that “shed a negative light upon Officer McCoy, the canine program and the department in general.”

Kucirek’s written response to the grievance said that he didn’t believe he said anything negative about McCoy.

“Any ‘negative light’ shed upon you is a result of your own personnel file which, as you should be aware, is a public record,” Kucirek wrote.

Another grievance by McCoy filed July 17 accuses Kucirek and investigators of not giving McCoy documents detailing an internal investigation.

Kucirek declined to discuss the investigation, but wrote in a May 7 memo to McCoy that the officer was being investigated over “complaints about your personal conduct as it relates to several females that you have previously been involved with.”

McCoy also was ordered in the same memo to stay away from any females with whom he had a relationship in the past four years.

On July 18, McCoy filed another grievance complaining about a July 16 document he was given that directed him to improve his job performance in keeping his patrol car clean, making his signature more legible, changing his schedule without approval, reporting late for work, failing to download cruiser video and his off-duty conduct.

McCoy denied that his performance was deficient, noting in a letter to Kucirek that he had been “performing the tasks you have listed out at least as well as most of my fellow officers.” He also wrote that he took the letters as a sort of “last chance agreement,” although Kucirek wrote later that the letter was simply orders and not disciplinary action.

McCoy’s other two grievances dealt with overtime.

Other complaints

Two grievances deal with Kucirek’s decision to suspend part-time Officer Kyle Gelenius, who also is a full-time officer and union leader in Lorain, for a May confrontation with a supervisor at the Lorain County Jail in which he threatened to arrest her and drop a prisoner off in the jail lobby when jail staff raised concerns about the hospital paperwork he brought with him while delivering an intoxicated woman. Gelenius has challenged whether he should face any punishment.

Other grievances include complaints that Kucirek didn’t give full-time dispatchers preference over part-timers for holiday scheduling and overtime; that he failed to give Officer Michael Rosebeck a chance to respond when Kucirek told Rosebeck and Officer Jacob Perez to do a better job approving reports when working as supervisors; and a dispute over whether a part-time officer was improperly denied a full-time job.

Perez filed a grievance in February after he was denied four hours of overtime for a canceled court appearance. According to Kucirek’s response, dispatchers called both Perez’s home and cell phones to inform him that court was canceled.

Perez didn’t receive the messages and showed up at the station. He was paid for the30 minutes he was there, according to the grievance file.

Kucirek said he thinks many of the complaints contained in the grievances could have been handled better if officers had approached him instead of taking formal action.

He also said he believes the department is heading in the right direction.

“The goal is always to advance and move forward,” Kucirek said. “As I told a bunch of officers the other day, ‘As officers, you’re either progressing or decaying.’ And I don’t want people here to decay.”

Perry, however, has a different view. He said he and union leaders are simply trying to enforce the contract and protect the rights of officers.

“While Joe’s always willing to talk, he’s not always willing to listen very well,” Perry said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.