Pinellas Park officers say a good rating from one superior often ends up downgraded by another higher up.
By ANNE LINDBERG
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 3, 2001
PINELLAS PARK -- Imagine working hard at your job for a year. Your supervisor gives you a stellar evaluation, but his superior, who has never worked with you, orders him to lower the rating.
Some officers have complained to the union that such downgrading is commonplace in the Pinellas Park Police Department. The Police Benevolent Association calls the practice "unconscionable" and says it has raised the issue for almost two years to no avail. Now, union representatives want a clause in the officers' contract that will outlaw the practice.
"We will address the issue of evaluations during negotiations," PBA executive director Bill LauBach said. "We're definitely going to open that. . . . If it can't be solved through management, then we will have to do it in a contract."
Pinellas Park police Chief Dorene Thomas conceded that upper-level officers have made such changes in evaluations since she has taken over. But she denied that the practice is common.
"I do think we have some selected cases, yes, where that has occurred," Thomas said.
Some of the time, Thomas said, the changes in the evaluations were ordered because the lieutenant or captain has heard, seen or experienced something or had a talk with an officer's former supervisor that indicates the ratings need to be altered.
Former police Chief David Milchan said Tuesday that such changes in evaluations occasionally happened during his tenure.
"In my administration, it did not happen often," Milchan said. "There was an occasional one that occurred."
Typically, Milchan said, a sergeant had continually complained about an officer throughout the year yet gave the officer a good evaluation. That, Milchan said, would cause a captain to question the validity of the evaluation, saying that it did not seem to reflect what the sergeant had said. The sergeant then would go back and amend the evaluation, Milchan said.
"Some sergeants don't like to give bad news to an officer," Milchan said. "It's easier to give them an evaluation that they're happy with because they don't get any flak. It's easier to take the path of less resistance."
At other times, he said, new sergeants needed to learn better how to evaluate the officers in their charge.
"I don't see anything wrong with that," Milchan said.
LauBach said it's more than an infrequent occurrence.
"It's so common for supervisors to be overruled by people who have no clue as to the behavior or (abilities) of the people being evaluated," LauBach said. "I understand it's a pattern of behavior. I understand it's routine. I know they're being changed at the highest level. . . . There's just no explanation why that is so."
In one case, LauBach said, one officer's job performance was ranked as "exceeds expectations," the second-highest possible on the form. Later, his ranking was downgraded to "meets expectations" after a superior officer told the sergeant to change it, LauBach said. Yet, the superior officer had not worked with the individual being evaluated.
"There's no contact," LauBach said. "That's unconscionable."
LauBach said he has complained to Thomas, the current chief, and has been told the situation would be remedied. But nothing has changed, and the union will bring up the issue when contract negotiations begin later this year.
"Everybody knows about it, but nobody's doing anything about it," LauBach said.
Thomas denied that, saying she has told her lieutenants to make sure officers are informally evaluated every three months, especially if they are shifted to another supervisor.
Such informal evaluations, she said, can indicate if there are problems or other issues that need to be addressed. Also, if everything is okay, the officer also knows that. The constant monitoring will protect both officers and supervisors, she said.
"It shouldn't be a year later and all of a sudden you're surprised," Thomas said.