Monday, May 28, 2001

Police, city at odds on cars

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FAIRFIELD — A dispute over police cruiser markings has become a flashpoint for city officers, particularly after a lieutenant was reprimanded for publicly expressing his opinion about it.

        “This is not a car design issue. It's gone beyond that, and now we have someone disciplined for it, which we find ridiculous,” said Officer Michael Tiernan, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 166, which represents about 54 city officers. “The issue is: If we can't rely on the city administration to back us on something as trivial as a cruiser design, can we count on them to back us on the important things?”

        Police Chief Michael Dickey had asked officers to volunteer off-work hours for a committee on cruiser markings since February. Yet city officials disregarded the committee's choice in favor of a design that Mayor Bob Wolpert preferred.

        Lt. Ken Colburn, a 16-year veteran of the force, was reprimanded Wednesdayfor sharing his thoughts on the dispute with a Citizen Police Academy class.

        As a result, Officer Tiernan said Friday, morale has sunk to perhaps its lowest point in his 23 years on the force. Officers have little recourse other than voicing their displeasure, he said.

        Neither the chief nor the mayor could be reached for comment, but Councilman Ron D'Epifanio, chairman of the city's Public Safety Committee, called officers' concerns unfounded.

        “This thing has gotten completely out of proportion,” he said.

        In an interview after work hours Friday, Lt. Colburn said, “the city doesn't owe us the right to choose our cruiser design. They could have just said, "Here you go, this is the design, and you live with it.'

        “The (problem) comes in forming a committee, making promises to the committee, not living up to those promises and supporting those who use those methods,” he said.

        On May 14 council, by consensus, decided on golden-yellow and black markings, which officers complained could be confused with those of the neighboring Hamilton Police Department.

        On May 15, Lt. Colburn told the citizens' group that Hamilton radio station WMOH 1450-AM was conducting a poll on the emblem designs on its Internet site. Lt. Colburn also described which design he and other officers preferred.

        “You initiated an effort to garner support for a different cruiser design than what I approved,” Chief Dickey wrote. The chief said it was inappropriate for Lt. Colburn to voice his viewpoint “in a public forum” in which he was representing the police department and the city.

        Lt. Colburn, who was reprimanded for “unbecoming conduct,” sent a written reply, saying, “I disagree that willingness to stand behind the truth is "unbecoming conduct.'

        “The emphasis seems to be on suppressing opposing viewpoints,” Lt. Colburn's letter continues. “I would request that no further retaliation take place against any officer for speaking, or writing, the truth or associating with anyone who demands truthfulness.”


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