The disconnect between the Loveland Police Department’s command staff and the rank and file has reached a fervor, tanking agency morale and prompting some to call for a shake-up in department leadership, a report shows.
Allegations of misconduct and anecdotes of officers struggling to work alongside captains, lieutenants and longtime Chief Luke Hecker pack a recent anonymous Fraternal Order of Police survey, obtained by the Coloradoan. The questionnaire offers a deep look inside an agency embroiled in lawsuits and felony allegations of officer misconduct.
The report has become the center of conversation among the agency’s 93 sworn officers, department commanders and city officials.
And while Hecker told the Coloradoan efforts are in the works to alleviate some of the issues raised in recent months, it remains unclear exactly how LPD will address the laundry list of issues plaguing the department
Hecker declined to address why and how the issues have percolated over his decade as chief.
“I think alarms and red flags ought to be going off everywhere,” said Troy Krenning, a veteran law enforcement officer, lawyer and current Loveland City Council member.
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The report, which had a 63 percent rate of return from the 97 surveys sent, puts the crosshairs squarely on the administration. Among the issues Fraternal Order of Police leadership finds most concerning are:
•64 percent of respondents are dissatisfied with the performance and management demonstrated by the chief.
•75 percent are dissatisfied with performance and management demonstrated by the agency’s captains.
•63 percent are dissatisfied with current procedures for making suggestions to agency administrators
•80 percent are dissatisfied with communication from administration to line staff.
•87 percent are dissatisfied with the consistency with discipline and policy enforcement
•79 percent are dissatisfied with hiring and marketing to outside recruits and lateral moves.
•69 percent are dissatisfied with the ability and willingness of administrators to represent the needs of the department to city leadership.
•36 percent disagreed with the statement: “Overall I am satisfied with working at the Loveland Police Department
“You have to believe there’s some validity to some of the statements that have been made,” Krenning said. He said questions have been brewing for years. Now, he hopes, Loveland police leadership will be forced to adapt.
The Fraternal Order of Police is an organization of sworn officers scattered internationally across more than 2,000 lodges, including Fort Collins. The group touts itself as the voice that helps identify issues within agencies, simultaneously playing a role in bargaining agreements for legal and labor issues.
About 95 percent of Loveland’s officers are members with Lodge 52, formed in 2006. Rank in the 103-member lodge spans from rookie cops to longtime captains. There are 12 civilian personnel — community service officers and communications staffers — as well as six retired members.
Members in March called for the survey for multiple reasons, said Lodge President Rob Pride. Chief among them was to “gauge the progress” of issues highlighted in a similar survey in 2011. Many of those concerns, he said, have lingered for the past four years, though specifics of that survey were not immediately available due to the proprietary nature of the survey.
“The survey was done to illuminate the issues and concerns of the membership, identify solutions and work collaboratively with the police administration and/or city management to resolve them,” Pride wrote in an email to the Coloradoan.
Of the 97 surveys administered — membership was smaller in March — 61 were returned. Eighteen percent of respondents have been with LPD less than three years, 33 percent between three and nine years. Forty-nine percent of respondents have been with the agency more than 10 years.
The survey was never intended to be made public.
Instead, leadership with the department, city and lodge planned to quietly chip away at the concerns, Pride said.
But the Coloradoan obtained a copy of the at-times damning report and earlier this month asked Chief Luke Hecker to address many of the concerns expressed by multiple officers. Typically, police departments use methods other than surveys to internally gauge morale and identify issues.
Hecker was asked to comment on how he gauges morale in his department, whether he’s satisfied with the way command staff communicates and interacts with patrol officers and whether discipline policies needed to be reformed. Additionally, the Coloradoan asked multiple questions about what the 10-year police chief planned to do to alleviate external and internal concerns.
The questions came the same week veteran Loveland Detective Brian Koopman was charged with felony bribery stemming from a previous murder investigation.
“I have no public comment,” Hecker wrote in his first response, copying the city’s legal team. Only then was the report made available for city council members and some city staff, firing up at least one critic.
“ ‘No comment’ doesn’t work for a police chief when asked to address issues with his department,” Krenning said in a phone interview, criticizing leadership’s years-long belief that things would work themselves out. Krenning spent 15 years with Fort Collins and Denver police departments and eventually became a police chief in Kansas. He’s now a trial lawyer based in Loveland.
Hecker, after a second request for comment, replied on Wednesday with a two-page letter addressing some of the concerns.
“…The report offers perspective into the operation of LPD. I certainly do not discount its contents,” he wrote.
Hecker addressed the current challenges plaguing law enforcement more generally, calling attention to the “highly publicized examples of clear misconduct.”
“Regrettably, we all suffer the consequences of the actions of a few,” he said before addressing some of the issues highlighted in the survey.
On a disconnect between command staff and officers, he remained vague about concrete solutions.
“To be clear, the results of this survey are important to me and to other command staff members. The opinions of respondents matter to us. We value those officers and civilian employees represented by Lodge 52 who express those opinions, and will take specific steps to address the issues they raise. And, when we take action to meet those challenges, we will communicate those changes.”
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On under-staffing concerns, he wrote that five of the 98 authorized sworn officer positions remain open while a search for the right candidates continues.
On job satisfaction, he said officer-retention remains among the highest in the state. Seventy percent of the survey respondents were satisfied with training opportunities. The agency continues to have a competitive pay structure with other Northern Colorado forces, as has been reported previously. Sixty-two percent of respondents were satisfied with the department’s pay plan. However, many survey respondents said the only thing that kept them coming to work each day were their peers.
Hecker responded, “Officers who are unhappy here have attractive opportunities to leave, yet they stay.”
All agreed anonymous survey results cannot be used to draw broad conclusions. But agreement among respondents on many of the issues can.
“The FOP survey report will not be shelved. We take its content seriously and will use it to guide future direction of the agency,” Hecker wrote.
The chief of police works under the guidance of the city manager. Since the survey was published in June, the FOP has met with Hecker and City Manager Bill Cahill. The manager, city council, the Loveland lodge’s leadership and police heads are slated to continue discussions through summer.
Cautious optimism seems to be the overarching sentiment.
“Given the productive dialogue thus far, we’d like to allow city management the opportunity to address the issues brought forth in the survey before commenting further,” Pride said.
But critics, like Krenning, are demanding action sooner rather than later. He believes officers on the front lines are left working in “deplorable conditions” while the wheels of change slowly spin. Allegations of misconduct, as in the Koopman investigation, highlight the double-standards and favoritism that continues to plague the agency, he said.
“I’m not anti-cop. I’m anti-bad cop,” Krenning said, lauding the work of the vast majority of officers in the department.
“Morale is a hard thing to recover once it’s lost… I really do think that the solution will likely require wholesale change and probably wholesale change at the top levels of the police department.”
Reporter Jason Pohl covers law enforcement for the Coloradoan. Follow him on Twitter: @pohl_jason.
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