Are we allowed to sit on the fence?

Serious question(s).  Are we required to blindly agree with everything that leadership does? Are we supposed to support and defend all officers, no matter what?  What if the problem is officers versus leadership, or in the scenario I’d like to discuss, officers versus leadership versus city management versus police unions?

We are trained and engrained to support our fellow officers, leadership, city management, and so on, but what if all those elements are fighting against each other?

My example comes from Henderson, Nevada, and involves a fairly new police chief, a new deputy chief, and established police union… and the city’s desire to make changes in the department after the previous chief left office amid controversy. 

Stories published today in the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Review-Journal show two completely different takes on this disputation. 

The Sun interviewed Henderson’s Police Chief LaTesha Watson and clearly allowed her to speak freely.  I’ll point out several issues, good and bad, with that dialogue. The Review-Journal previously reported potential problems with Watson’s Deputy Chief Thedrick Andres, based on interactions with officers in Henderson, as well as major events while he served in Arlington, Texas, alongside Chief Watson.

To present my quandary with blindly following any of the elements in the debacle with your loyalty, a quick history is in order.

Chief LaTesha Watson served as Deputy Chief in Arlington, Texas.  She was hired to follow the previous chief who’d left under crisis, and according to Henderson’s Chief Operating Officer and Deputy City Manager Bristol Ellington, as a “change agent.”  Ellington realized that bringing someone new into an organization could create disruption. 

Ironically, Watson was placed on leave and essentially forced to resign for creating that disruption.

Based on reporting from The Sun, Watson was given the choice to either “agree to step down amicably, forfeiting claims against the city of Henderson while not disparaging its reputation, or be terminated with cause.”  Watson explained that she was brought in to make changes and has made several good changes in her 16-month time in the position.  She also declared that “You don’t treat people this way” and hinted that race and gender played a part in her dismissal.

Deputy Chief Thedrick Andres came to Henderson from Arlington with somewhat of a controversial past. 

Andres was on a party bus in Texas while off-duty, a comment was made to him, and it resulted in Andres fighting with two men, one a Marine veteran.  The veteran threw the first punch, and the fight spilled into a parking lot, but Andres retrieved a gun from his car and fatally shot the fight aggressor, the Marine veteran. 

A civil suit was brought. 

Andres was involved in a road rage incident in Coppell, Texas, where he pulled a gun on a man who had brandished an ice scraper, and Andres related he thought it was a hatchet. 

There were also several excessive force complaints against him when he served with the New Orleans Police Department.

Andres has now assumed the Police Chief position in Henderson, replacing his former boss.  Based on twelve complaints against Chief Watson for alleged “union busting” and disagreements with officers, I don’t see morale changing soon there, nor do I see the temperature of the room going down any time in the near future.

Now to my original set of questions. 

A little background on my thought process. 

I’m a native Texan, but I lived just outside Philadelphia for almost ten years.  An old Italian guy I worked with always said, “It is what it is.”  He said it so much that it bugged me, so I asked him about it. 

He explained that no matter what the situation is, no matter how it’s handed to you, no matter what it looks like, it is what it is.  You can’t change the way you receive it.  You can’t change what it looks like when you get it.  What you can impact is what you do with it, whatever “it” is, once it lands in your lap.  You can ignore it, kick the can down the road, try to fix it and screw it up even more, or actually fix it and make it better than when you got it.  Pretty profound explanation for just a few words.

Please apply the “it is what it is” stamp to these next few statements and questions.

Who do we believe, given that someone asked our opinion?  Is Chief Watson playing the race and gender card to avoid responsibility, or to gain a leg-up in litigation, since she’s already retained counsel?

Does the city have an accurate and strong position that she violated union agreements and caused problems with her officers due to her leadership style, or the lack thereof?

Or is she just doing what she was hired to do – make changes?  After all, it’s proven that response times have improved drastically, and there is much more of a “boots on the ground” presence in the city, and that makes citizens happy.

Does bringing in a deputy chief with a checkered past, a fatal shooting of an unarmed man, a weapon-involved road rage incident, and several excessive force cases back in New Orleans cause dissention in the ranks?  Do good officers want to be supervised by someone they don’t consider a good officer?

What does this matter to you and me? 

I say it matters a great deal when the very same scenario, albeit with different players, could take place in your department. It might be going on now, or your department and city/county could have dealt with it previously.  Who do you back?  When you’re asked about it, what is your response?

Today, this week, this year, this catastrophe is going on in Henderson, Nevada.  People are talking.  Opinions are being formed.  Opinions to be held by citizens, city/county officials, and officers or deputies.  A drama like this could easily unfold in your jurisdiction.

Is it okay for us to sit on the fence, or will we be forced to take sides?