Two police administrators ordered subordinates to break the rules to allow four unqualified police officers to join the department through a special recruiting program, the Fort Worth Police Officers Association alleges.
Assistant Chief Abdul Pridgen and Deputy Chief Vance Keyes then retaliated against Lt. William Hix and Sgt. S. Rhoden after they raised concerns about the unqualified applicants and possible police contract violations, according to a grievance filed Tuesday by FWPOA president Rick Van Houten.
“The Fort Worth POA will always stand behind their members and the officers of the Fort Worth Police Department, especially when they’re being persecuted and retaliated against for their integrity and ethics,” Van Houten said Tuesday. “This sergeant and lieutenant have stood up for what is right and have been retaliated against for doing so.”
At issue are at least four applicants currently enrolled in the ongoing Lateral Entry Officer Class, a program aimed at recruiting already certified police officers working at other police departments. The latest class started Sept. 26.
Police spokesman Sgt. Marc Povero said the department could not comment because of an “active internal affairs investigation involving accusations documented in a recent grievance filed by the Fort Worth Police Officers Association.”
“There is, however, a fundamental difference in interpretation of specific language contained in the Meet and Confer contract in regards to the hiring of Lateral Entry Officers. The police department welcomes the grievance to clarify language that could be interpreted differently,” Povero said in an email.
Povero said he could not identify the subject of the internal affairs investigation, nor which allegations are under investigation.
Some of the applicants, the grievance alleges, did not have a current intermediate peace officer certificate, nor did they meet the criteria for such a certificate at the time of application, as required under the meet and confer contract.
Another applicant was allowed to start the training class despite not successfully passing a polygraph test, as required.
The grievance states that Hix and Rhoden had informed Pridgen and Keyes that including the applicants in the lateral class would be a meet and confer violation, but were still ordered to do so.
Rhoden, upon discovering that one of the applicants had not successfully passed a polygraph, had scheduled a new test for the applicant on the day before the class was to start.
Within 20 minutes of informing the applicant that he would need to take the polygraph, Rhoden received a text message from her lieutenant ordering her to cancel the scheduled polygraph, the grievance states.
“The [lieutenant] advises it was his understand that this order came directly from Deputy Chief Keyes,” the grievance states.
The grievance states that Rhoden was reprimanded for directly emailing Pridgen that she had been ordered by Keyes to not polygraph an applicant prior to the start of the lateral class, as required under the meet and confer agreement.
On Spet. 30, she and Hix were then advised by Pridgen that they needed to “look for a new home” as they were being transferred out of the background unit, the grievance states.
“Think of the tremendous amount of courage and integrity it took for a sergeant and a lieutenant to stand up to their commanders and say, this is wrong,” said attorney Terry Daffron, who is representing Hix. “Instead of being rewarded for their integrity, they were retaliated against and, as of Friday, had been advised that they were being transferred.”
‘Unfair to other officers’
The FWPOA said that including unqualified applicants into the lateral hiring process and allowing them to become Fort Worth officers is “unfair to other officers on the department as it pertains to seniority rights and pay.”
The association is asking the city to:
▪ Hire an independent firm to conduct an investigation and audit of the previous lateral entry classes to see if applicants met the requirements.
▪ nvestigate Pridgen and Keyes’ actions as well as any other command staff personnel who knew about unqualified applicants being accepted into the class or the retaliations against members of the background unit.
▪ Investigate Pridgen and Keyes for “creating a hostile work environment for the background investigators and personnel” and possible official oppression.
Meet and confer is a collective bargaining tool approved by voters in 2006 that gives the FWPOA the right to negotiate employment issues with the city manager.
“The contract is binding on both parties,” Van Houten said. “We feel like it is a travesty when the command staff violates the contract and especially so, when it’s intentionally done.”
In 2013, the city council approved a 4-year police contract that strengthened the department’s lateral-hiring provision — allowing the city to recruit up to 30 officers a year from other cities of 100,000 people or more at pay commensurate with experienced officers.
The previous contract required that such recruits receive entry pay.
Several Dallas officers have moved to the Fort Worth police department under the program.