Note: This story was updated at 8:20 p.m. Jan. 31.
Oak Ridge Police Chief Jim Akagi on Friday responded to a critical letter written by his predecessor, former Police Chief David Beams, and published in part in two local newspapers and elsewhere online.
Akagi said he was surprised by Beams’ comments and disagreed with them, but he would be willing to sit down with the former chief to discuss his grievances.
In his Wednesday letter, Beams, who retired in March 2011, several months before Akagi started, took issue with what he said was Akagi’s lack of experience as a municipal police chief; his “irrational, erratic, and vindictive” behavior (as reported to Beams by “countless officers and supervisors”); and his relations with the media, among other criticisms. Beams, who no longer lives in Oak Ridge, said Akagi “needs to go.”
Akagi said he was surprised and dismayed by the comments and how they were delivered.
“David Beams’ comments took me by surprise when I read them earlier this week,” Akagi said. “Whereas I disagree with his assessment of the situation, he certainly has a right to voice his opinions; however, I am dismayed by the manner in which he chose to do so. I am certain David faced many difficult issues and was the recipient of criticism during his tenure with ORPD, similar to issues and criticism I have faced, and will continue, to face as chief.”
Beams, who served from 1993-2011, also aimed fire at Akagi’s supervisor, City Manager Mark Watson, disputing some of his statements, and said “Mark Watson needs to go too.”
Much of the initial attention this week focused on the turnover rate in the Oak Ridge Police Department and whether it is high. Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn, who raised the issue publicly, suggested it was, at least compared to the Knoxville Police Department.
But Oak Ridge officials have suggested the turnover rate in the past four years has been in line with the turnover rate in previous years.
Beams acknowledged there is always going to be some turnover regardless of who the chief may be.
“However, the numbers being currently reported seem to be very high,” he said. “I suspect they are high due to the terrible working conditions existing within the Police Department.”
Beams, who was then the outgoing president of the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police, claimed that a former high-level supervisor who he said retired early due to the new police chief was forced to drive to Memphis in the summer of 2011 for a “10-minute chewing out” because he had “committed some act that displeased Akagi.”
Parts of Beams’ letter are based on what he’s heard, as opposed to what he’s witnessed, but he said he’s heard complaints and concerns from officers and citizens “that I know to be truthful and reliable.”
On Thursday, Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said he has confidence in Akagi. The management of the Police Department has not been a cause for concern for him, and the Police Department is more professional than it was before, Watson said.
Some readers have asked whether Beams ever discussed what he heard from ORPD employees with Akagi. Akagi said Beams has not raised the concerns with him.
“I met with him (Beams) once shortly after I arrived, and he has not told me about any of the issues he outlined in his letter regarding complaints reportedly made to him by current and former staff,” Akagi said. “I wish he had spoken to me about these issues, as I respect his many years of service in Oak Ridge and understand the sacrifices he made to ensure the city was safe under his watch.
“As a fellow career law enforcement officer, I invite him to sit down with me. I’ll gladly listen to his grievances and would welcome the opportunity to enlighten him on some of the issues in which he has been misinformed. Regardless of whether he does or not, I sincerely wish him the best in retirement, which is well-deserved after 39 years of service.”