Saturday, February 03, 2001

County punishes probation officers

Court-ordered drug tests not administered

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County officials punished 14 probation officers and supervisors Friday for failing to follow court orders.

        The disciplinary action ended a six-month investigation into why officers did not give hundreds of court-ordered drug tests to convicted drug offenders.

        The tests are crucial because judges use them to determine whether offenders should remain free on probation. Some of the disciplined employees insisted they did nothing wrong, but most accepted the punishment without argument.

        “You learn from your mistakes,” said Tim Shannon, an assistant chief probation officer who received a three-day suspension. “I accept this as the learning experience it is.”

        Five supervisors, including Mr. Shannon, were among the 14 employees disciplined. Punishments ranged from written reprimands to three-day suspensions.

        Court officials say they are confident the mistakes won't be repeated. “The changes have been made and the message has been sent,” said Court Administrator Mike Walton.

        Trouble in the department began last summer when former probation chief Michael Snowden resigned after his officers rebelled against changes he was making in the office.

        The Enquirer then reported that internal audits had found serious problems with the drug tests. County judges revamped the testing program and ordered disciplinary hearings for the officers.

        In written responses to the discipline, some officers complained that heavy caseloads and demands made by Mr. Snowden made it difficult to conduct all of the drug tests.

        “It is not humanly possible to accomplish all tasks to perfection,” wrote supervisor Barbara Allen, who received a written reprimand.

        The department wants to hire a private firm to run the drug-testing program.

        The number of tests increased so dramatically under the new program — from 2,800 a month to 3,600 — that the county must put the job up for bid again.


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