Facing levy vote, Miami Twp. Trustees say police department needs improvement

With garbage pick-up and police levies on the Tuesday ballot that would increase taxes, Miami Twp. is at the center of one police-related civil lawsuit and could face more legal action after an incident that led to the deputy chief being put on paid administrative leave.

Plus, the liability risk of the department may be higher because police leadership failed to maintain its 1994 accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement officers (CALEA), an organization that touts best practices and says it limits risk from lawsuits. Police Chief Chris Krug said many factors conspired as to why re-accreditation hasn’t happened during his 16-year tenure.

The township is being sued by Lebanon grade-school teacher Pamela Argabrite, who was severely injured in a high-speed police chase of burglary suspect Anthony Barnhart on July 11, 2011. Barnhart died after law enforcement officials said the suspect was driving southbound on 741 at about 80 miles per hour when he crossed the center line and hit Argabrite’s vehicle.

The suit against township police personnel says Argabrite has had multiple surgeries, medical and hospital expenses of more than $630,000 and loss of past and future earnings in excess of $57,000. Her attorney, Kenneth Ignozzi, said Miami Twp. police didn’t follow their own policies and procedures.

“If you look at all of that and you look at what happened, we believe there’s a clear violation,” Ignozzi said. “It was clearly reckless to engage in that kind of pursuit through that many red lights, through that many stop signs at that speed at noon, the busiest time of the day.”

The levies also come at a time that the department’s deputy chief, Maj. John DiPietro, is on paid administrative leave after two months of investigation surrounding the decontamination of a 17-year-old girl pepper-sprayed by township police in July.

DiPietro, a long-time township officer, hosed down the girl, while she was naked, in a sallyport at the department offices, according to Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer. A township hearing regarding DiPietro has been delayed and is now scheduled for Nov. 14.

“We obviously have some problems with policies, procedures and some of the personnel,” said Miami Twp. Trustee Mike Nolan, a former Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy who was elected in 2009. “That should not reflect on the men and women who are out there daily doing an excellent job providing police service to the township residents.”

“There have been some issues,” Nolan added. ” I promise they will get corrected.”

Trustee Charlie Lewis agreed: “I know we’ve had some problems, just in the last year or so. I’m a little concerned.”

Lewis said police morale is low, “obviously with the DiPietro thing” but that he doubted the levy vote would be impacted. “Our people are pretty proud of our police department,” Lewis said. “We don’t hear too many complaints. I hope the citizens pass the levy and I think they will.”

Trustee Deborah Preston cast a dissenting vote against putting both levies on the ballot, saying: “It’s an outrage to ask the taxpayers to pay additional tax for police service” even though she also said “I support our police department and the excellent job they’re doing.”

Preston, though, defended the police department’s methods and wasn’t sure CALEA accreditation — something 20 area departments have or are near completing — was that big of a deal.

“I think that that accreditation is OK to have, but I also know that our police department has top-notch policies and procedures in place that mirror that accreditation,” Preston said. “We’re not accredited, but we have best practices and procedures put into place.”

Nolan said that about two weeks ago, all three trustees mandated that Krug start the CALEA accreditation process in 2013 and try to get the two-to-three year process expedited. Nolan said CALEA represents the nationally accepted practices and “to have anything less than the national standard is, to me, unacceptable.”

In an email, Krug told the Dayton Daily News that in 1999 a CALEA consultant reviewed the department and determined that there were “many problems with proofs of compliance.”

Krug said he was told they’d have to start at ground zero in the process and he had just lost his deputy chief to a demotion: “I chose not to pursue the process any further at that time.”

The chief said in April 2002 an effort was made to begin the CALEA process but then the township administrator left for another job. Krug then became the interim administrator for six months and DiPietro became acting chief. “My absence from the police department caused us to fall way behind in the process,” Krug said. “So I made the decision to withdraw from the process.”

Krug concluded by saying: “We will be starting from scratch in 2013 to work towards accreditation.”

Nolan said of the CALEA efforts that the police department “just dropped it completely and that’s not acceptable.”

A 2011 PhD. thesis found that CALEA accredited agencies had no increase in the mean number of citizen complaints, 45 percent fewer civil lawsuits, 44 percent less money spent on litigation costs and 168 percent less monetary amounts in adverse judgments.

The thesis was done by William T. Gaut, a former police detectives captain in Birmingham, Ala. who serves as an expert court witness.

CALEA communications specialist Janice Dixon said the ever-evolving 480 CALEA standards are a tool for minimizing liability.

“The whole purpose of getting CALEA accredited is that it’s a way of managing the agency,” Dixon said. “It’s the way for the Chief or the CEO to have certainty that all of their written directives are meeting an international set of standards that say what a modern good agency should be doing.”

Nolan said he is very concerned that policies have not been updated, some for more than a decade. He mentioned the pepper spray policy, which is a memo dated June 11, 1996. He also mentioned “another policy that really burns me” is that while the cruisers have cameras in them, “we didn’t have a policy that said you had to have a tape in the machine.”

Nine out of ten times, that tape is going to protect that officer, he said.

Instead, there is no video footage from the fatal chase that led to the Argabrite lawsuit. “I was totally dismayed that we did not have tapes in the cars to record that pursuit.”

Krug is working to get digital cameras put in the cars which would automatically download their files when the cars returned to the station, Nolan said.

“I look forward to using my experience to help guide our future police leaders into a more sophisticated, better equipped and more professional department,” Nolan said.

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