Editorial: Council Should Release Details Of Police Chief Investigation

By / Editorials / Wednesday, 13 May 2015 04:00

Managing Editor

Last week the Town of Carolina Beach terminated the employment of Police Chief Ken Hinkle following his suspension with pay on April 15th.
Town Manager Michael Cramer has said he can not comment on personnel matters other than to announce Hinkle's termination. We requested a copy of the letter of termination sent to Hinkle last week but the Town denied our request pending a "final decision" following a seven day period of time to allow Hinkle and his attorney to appeal. Hinkle's attorney, Barry Henline, emailed the Island Gazette a copy of that letter.
We obtained a copy of a letter sent to the Town Council by Henline representing Hinkle. That letter appears in this week's edition (See report on page 1-A).
The story remains short with few details because of requirements spelled out in State Law. In particular GS 160A-168 concerning personnel privacy. That law governs what Town officials and elected leaders can release to the public. There is one section that permits release of personnel information only if it, "... is essential to maintaining public confidence in the administration of city services or to maintaining the level and quality of city services."
At this point there simply isn't any additional information to report other than a source that says the Town Attorney selected an investigator to conduct the investigation and interviews with  all police department personnel, Town Manager and the Human Resources Director. That report was delivered to the Council over the past couple of weeks.
Once the appeal period is over, the Town Council should meet to discuss releasing as much information as they can to the public based on the allowance of state law in order to maintain public confidence in the administration of the police department. This not to say the Council is hiding anything, it's a complicated process, but eventually the public must be able to consider some details of why the police chief was suspended and ultimately terminated. Why there was an investigation and what were the circumstances that lead to the "final decision."
 Otherwise, the public will be suspicious and rampant imagination will fill in the void with speculation. And that's not fair to anyone involved.
Not releasing that type of information is not fair to the officers or the public they serve because at this point the only information that is public came directly from the Chief and his attorney. They now control the public dialogue. The position of Police Chief is a top leadership position. If this was Mr. John Doe inspecting storm water ponds, there would be less of a focus.
For example, in the letter appearing in the report on page 1-A this week, it states, " Many do not like change in any form and when the change requires accountability and correction it will likely meet serious opposition from within." The letter states that officers were upset about scheduling of shifts.
If the Chief believes that is the summary of the issues that lead to his termination, he also should petition the Town Council to release the investigation report to better inform the public.
Telling the Town Council in a letter that, "The Carolina Beach Police Department, has for many years prior, been inadequately and/or improperly supervised. Officers have had little if any accountability, there had been a serious lack of proper procedures in the area of property collection, search warrant service, and documentation and recordation, as well as scheduling issues that have left business and property owners without adequate police services." This paints an unfair negative picture of the department, it's officers, and our elected leaders and the public deserves all sides of the story to judge the decisions of our public servants. It's certainly a reason for the public to question their confidence in the department and the Town Council's leadership including the Town Manager.
The operative word being "confidence" which is why state law allows the Council to vote to release the information that led to Hinkle's termination. Then, let the public decide.
I know many of our fine officers and have seen three chiefs come and go for various reasons over the years. Our officers are outstanding public servants and have addressed internal issues over the years never putting the publics' safety in jeopardy. They work hard and have worked some hard cases over the years with excellent results.


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