After a red-light camera caught a Kansas City fraud detective driving his take-home police car on a family vacation in Florida, police started an internal investigation to look at his gas usage and mileage.
Department policy forbids officers from taking their assigned vehicles more than 50 miles outside the city, and this particular vehicle was supposed to be used for work-related business only.
But rather than face the investigation results, the 28-year veteran, who had been on a federal task force, abruptly retired at the end of August.
That irked some Star readers who thought he was getting off scot-free. They told me he should have been fired.
He wasn’t the first officer to retire under the glare of an internal investigation. Even officers ineligible for retirement sometimes resign rather than face demotion or termination that could mar future employment prospects.
The department has to provide these officers “due process,” Police Chief Darryl Forté said, adding that they have earned their pensions.
In this particular case, culling through years of gas usage, mileage records and time sheets took time. And police had to weigh whether a criminal investigation was in order. (As it turned out, the federal agency that supplied the vehicle didn’t want to prosecute.)
Once the internal investigation was complete, it was handled in the usual manner, which involved sending the “packet” to the detective’s captain, then major, then deputy chief for each commander’s recommendation.
The commanders considered his previous disciplinary problems. This detective had been rolled out of two previous assignments, once for kicking water balloons from a police helicopter during a risky maneuver over his neighborhood and another time for taking a police sniper rifle on a personal hunting trip during which he accidentally shot a hole in a friend’s truck.
Forté got the detective’s discipline packet the day the detective retired and recommended termination. But it was too late.
The detective’s departure had to be handled as a regular retirement, Forté said.
“We have to give officers the same courtesy that citizens should get when they’re accused of wrongdoing,” he said.
That meant the department (read taxpayers) even supplied a cake and a plaque for an office retirement party requested by the detective, an event several officers thought was in poor taste, considering the circumstances.
The detective still could pay for his actions. Literally.
Forté is researching whether he can force him to pay back hundreds of dollars in fuel costs for unexplained mileage and whether he can take it out of the officer’s final paycheck.
The termination recommendation will stay in his permanent file and be shared with the state agency that licenses police officers.