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Texas Municipal Police Association questions leadership in the Tyler Police Department

A Texas Municipal Police Association representative is expressing concerns about Tyler Police Department leadership and officer morale and came to the city Wednesday in hopes of addressing the City Council about the issues. About a dozen police officers also sat in the very back seats of the council chambers wearing polo shirts and did not get up to speak.

Clint McNear, a field representative with the association, which represents men and women of the Tyler Police Department, was unable to address the council at Wednesday’s meeting, since comments were not being taken about the city manager’s report.

However, McNear addressed the media after the meeting and said a department survey showed that officers fear retaliation and indicated they would leave or be willing to leave if department leadership didn’t change.

McNear said 182 Tyler police officers had an opportunity to take a survey about their department, with about 90 percent participating. There are 196 officers in the department.

The survey showed 76% of the officers who completed it feared retaliation, McNear said.

The survey also showed officers perceived failures of department leadership and that department morale was at an all-time low, he said.

Though McNear highlighted the problems within the organization, the survey also showed officers were pleased with some aspects of their job.

These included very high marks for enjoying their job assignment (88%) and liking their shift (84%).

Sixty-seven percent of officers agreed or strongly agreed that they had adequate equipment.

More than half of officers surveyed said they felt they received adequate training for their current assignment.

Though McNear was unable to speak during the council meeting, he confronted Mayor Martin Heines in the hallway afterward while many others stood and watched. McNear said Tyler is the only city he’s been to in North Texas that did not include a designated public comment period on its agenda.

Deborah Pullum, the city attorney, said in an interview that some people filled out public participation forms to speak during the city manager’s report on the agenda. However, in her view, she said allowing them to speak would have violated the Texas Open Meetings Law because those issues they wanted to address were not on the agenda.

Heines said in an interview that stakeholders have discussed the survey results with him. He said he has met with the organization’s board members, including hosting one of them at home. Going forward, he said the city has hired a consulting firm to start Aug. 1 to reconcile issues in the department.

“We’re really going to get to the point where we’re visiting with leadership and the individual men and women of the police department to make sure that we continue the greatest police force in East Texas and we have good dialogue between all of us,” Heines said.

Tyler Police Chief Jimmy Toler said in an interview that the police department has been in a protracted dispute with the Texas Municipal Police Association (TMPA) for several months about disciplinary actions that were taken against some officers who were not following department policies or general orders.

“Some of it has to do with me and others inside the department,” he said. “Everything we’ve done and every decision we’ve made we can support.”

Toler said he believes the situation built up to the point the department is dealing with board members of the Tyler Patrolman’s Association and TMPA who have concerns about transfers that were made and other corrective actions that were taken.

“We are glad to support our actions,” Toler said. “We wish they wouldn’t have happened. I am committed to make this environment the best it can be for the officers and employees of the Tyler Police Department.”

Toler said it’s possible TMPA wants different leadership in the department.

McNear said TMPA wants Toler out of the department based on the survey results and the issues that were brought to his attention by officers in the department.

“Leadership issues continued and when the board (Tyler Patrolman’s Association) visited with Chief Toler about it he took it outside the department to the city manager and it spiraled downhill from there,” McNear said. “The integrity of the city manager and chief has been compromised and that is outlined in a recent internal affairs investigation.”

For his part, City Manager Ed Broussard said in an emailed statement that he has a responsibility to ensure that the city’s commitment to public safety and justice remains paramount.

“We do that through the professionalism and effectiveness of our police chief and assistant chiefs,” Broussard said. “As our police administrative staff holds our officers accountable for their actions, Tyler police officers carry out their work every day with a high degree of competence and respect for those they serve.”

Broussard said the relationship between the city manager, the police chief and the police officers is crucial to the proper functioning of the police department.

“Through structured information sharing and discussion, including praise for work done well, full disclosure of relevant information, and review of areas needing improvement, our police department can continue to maintain the highest standards,” Broussard said. “I stand by the Tyler Police Department administrative staff, who ensures that we continue to focus on this commitment to public safety and quality service.”

McNear said he was contacted about the issues in the department in May 2018.

He described it as a situation in which there was retaliation and people were moved out of special assignment positions, McNear said.

Toler said TMPA is a statewide organization using union-style tactics and excitable language such as the term retaliatory.

“That can’t mean that every disciplinary action is retaliatory when some corrective actions need to take place,” Toler said.

“There were issues we had to deal with and we took corrective actions with assignments,” Toler said. “And those were due to the actions of the officer. They should not believe they were retaliated against. They know why and how those things happened. Every time there has been corrective action taken there’s been prior communication prior to the actions being taken.”

Toler said the officers did not use available resources inside the city to include human resources, the ethics hotline, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and legal to file a complaint or a grievance.

Last year the department had 31 disciplinary actions, Toler said.

“This year we’ve had 17,” Toler said. “The vast majority of those are associated with fleet accidents. The worst thing we have had this year was a written reprimand. The belief that there are a lot of disciplinary actions going on isn’t supported by the facts.”

Toler said he believes the situation occurred due to frustrations caused by communication breakdowns that prevented messages from going up and down the chain of command.

The department is working on developing better communication strategies to fix those issues, Toler said.

He also said he wants to do everything he can to help the officers in his department understand the leadership decisions he makes and to let them know they are valued and wanted in the department.

“I dedicated almost 26 years of my life to this city,” Toler said. “I’ve been in every department at every rank. When I sought this position we worked to develop a long-term strategy for the city of what we envisioned the department being. We moved forward to enhance community outreach, hiring more officers and getting higher pay.”

Toler said the residents can expect to receive outstanding police services from the city.

In response to the criticism of department leadership, Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith released a statement backing Toler and the department.

“I can say without prevarication that Chief Jimmy Toler ranks among the top of the list in his ability to competently manage a professional law enforcement operation such as the Tyler, Texas Police Department,” Smith said in the prepared statement. “He has my full cooperation and support.”

Heines also released a statement supporting the department.

“We have a police force of exceptional men and women,” Heines said. “In my career as both a city councilman and mayor of the city of Tyler, I have made it my mission to never introduce politics into the Tyler Police Department. It has been my expectation that the Police Union would also refrain from making policing a matter of politics.

“Even though the Police Union’s actions are the result of internal politics, the Tyler Police Department will continue providing exceptional public safety service to the citizens of Tyler,” Heines said.

Broussard said Toler and the department’s officers are focused and committed to the safety of every Tyler resident.

“Chief Toler has made many departmental improvements, tackled difficult public safety issues and made community outreach and engagement a top priority,” Broussard said. “I fully support Chief Toler and have every confidence in his ability to continue leading the Tyler Police Department.”

TWITTER: @Tylerpaper

Tyler passes ordinance banning e-scooters on most public streets, sidewalks

The city of Tyler has decided to ban motorized scooters from most of its city streets, citing concerns about safety, liability and clutter.

The Tyler City Council passed the ordinance on Wednesday at the recommendation of the Tyler Police Department, which conducted a study on the issue.

The issue came to the City Council because Blue Duck Scooters of San Antonio asked the city to allow a 30-day pilot program for scooters to be available in the downtown area.

In April, the City Council delayed a decision on that, after members said they would like to understand more what the risks were. The question of whether to approve a pilot program came back to the City Council Wednesday.

Billy Yates, the assistant chief of police, told the City Council that the police department did a survey and found that people were concerned about liability for the scooters; cluttering of right-of-ways, campuses, and parking lots; and any potential injuries.

Additionally, Yates said he looked at scooter injury data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control based on just under 1 million scooter trips around Austin. There were 10 injuries per 100,000 scooter trips, he said. Fifteen percent experienced brain injuries, and half experienced severe injuries.

“City staff recommend not approving the e-scooters in the city of Tyler,” he said in conclusion.

The City Council chamber went silent for a few seconds.

“At all?” asked Councilman Don Warren.

Yates explained that staff had written a draft ordinance to prohibit “shared active transportation systems,” such as scooters, and done it in such as way that scooters won’t be prohibited on college campuses. Those colleges could enter into their own agreements with companies like Blue Duck, he said.

Elizabeth Houston, a vice president for Blue Duck, attended the meeting. She said after Yates’ presentation that the company is happy to work with the city in any way to make scooters happen. However, she said she’s had trouble working with city officials to address concerns.

“There are some concerns that have been brought up that I’d love to address,” Houston said. “I did meet with the city manager and the chief back in March. … Since then, I’ve had a hard time working with the city, unfortunately.

“It seems like they’ve kind of wanted to do this in a silo and there’s a lot of things that have come up, and I wish we could discuss,” she said. “I did not know this was coming to a vote in April, or I would have been here.”

Houston said the company would be glad to reduce the number of scooters brought in as part of the pilot program, and no matter the number, she said the company would phase in their arrival.

“The clutter is a horrendous problem,” Houston said of the industry. “We recognize that. The operators in this space are very irresponsible. … I agree with you, and we would help solve that with employees that we hire here locally.”

The company operates in major cities such as San Antonio, Corpus Christi, and Laredo.

She said the company intentionally did not go into Austin or Dallas because of the saturation of many different scooter providers.

“I’ve seen how this can change lives, help people get to places of work, so if that means us taking a step back, even if it might not be a good business decision, we’re willing to do so,” Houston said.

In passing the ordinance, the City Council also voted to add language encouraging the company to work with local colleges, such as the University of Texas at Tyler, Tyler Junior College and Texas College.

“I was hoping the pilot program actually (would be) at the schools, being at UT Tyler, TJC for the 30-day program,” Warren said. “It sounds to me like you’re wanting to do just the flip side.”

Warren was referencing Houston’s preference to get approval through the city government first before launching with colleges, as opposed to his desire to see it launched at the schools before expanding through the city.

Houston said it’s been hard to get traction with the colleges. She said she hasn’t heard a lot of responses back after calling and emailing, and it would be easier to set up a pilot program with the city’s support.

“I’m inclined to make sure we open it up to all three colleges, TJC, Texas College and University of Texas,” Mayor Martin Heines said. “And I would like for our staff to encourage that with those entities. I think that would be a good starting point to be of some interest.”

Heines also commented on the company’s model of offering scooters in urban downtowns. Houston had said that model came about after her family had staff members at other companies riding scooters to work as a way to avoid congestion and paying pricey parking fees.

“We have a free parking garage that has 300 spaces open,” Heines said. “So we’re not really experiencing the same urbanization issues that San Antonio would be experiencing.”

In an interview after the meeting, Yates said the city’s sidewalks are not wide enough for both scooters and pedestrians, and that the historic brick streets in the downtown area create additional hazards.

“The difference between bicycles and scooters are the amount of pedestrians we have here in Tyler,” Yates said. “And our sidewalks will not accommodate both a scooter and a citizen. It possibly could in certain areas, but the area we concentrated on would not allow that.”

He said sidewalks would need to be wider to accommodate scooters, and it’s unlikely that the historic brick streets ever would be paved over. However, he said some of the projects going on downtown could make the area more attractive to scooters.

“We encourage every company to come to the city of Tyler, but right now we just don’t feel like right now is the right time for products like that,” Yates said.

TWITTER and INSTAGRAM: @_erinmansfield

TJC hosts art camps for area kids

Kids from around East Texas cut, pasted, painted and drew their own creations during two art camps this week at Tyler Junior College.

Campers ages 8 through 12 participated in the eighth annual Petite Picassos art camp, learning Picasso-style drawing, painting, collage-making and more.

Nine-year-old camper Raleigh Prater incorporated magazine clippings of flowers, butterflies, rainbow leaves and the word “love” into her collage. She said her favorite part about creating art was that “you just get to mess with your imagination and do whatever you want.”

Camp instructor and local artist Sylvia Morse, who helped develop Petite Picassos art camp, said the goal of the camp is to instill “the desire to always make art” in the children who attend.

Artist Michael Morse, Sylvia’s son, led a Watercolor and Acrylic Painting art camp for older campers, ages 11 through 14. His campers worked on painting still life, nature from memory, abstract works and more using the two paint mediums.

Michael Morse said his campers ultimately “learn some cool new ways to make art that they may not have learned on their own.”

TWITTER: @Tylerpaper