Editor’s note: This is a copy of a March 3 letter to Oak Ridge City Council.
Dear Oak Ridge City Council members:
I am honored to communicate with you today regarding a very important issue affecting the members of the City of Oak Ridge Police Department. Many of them are affiliated with the Knox County Chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association.
Before I discuss the issue at hand, I want to give you a very brief background regarding the PBA. We are not a union. We do not engage in union activities such as work disruptions or strikes. We are respectful when working with the administrations our officers serve. I’ve found most problems can be resolved if both parties come to the table with an open mind and a willingness to compromise.
The law enforcement officers from Anderson, Loudon, Roane, and Knox counties that make up our chapter depend on our local chapter board to monitor situations and protect their interests. Mostly those interests are confined to the following: a fair working environment and returning home safely at the end of a watch.
As president of the chapter, I am dedicated to our members, almost 600 officers, located in Anderson, Knox, Loudon, and Roane counties. Of our 157 members in Anderson County, 40 work for the Oak Ridge Police Department, which makes up a large percentage of your police department.
The recent news regarding morale at the department and public allegations levied against Oak Ridge Police Department Chief James T. Akagi are serious and deserve the full attention of the City Council. Citizens benefit from a police force with low turnover and high morale. Those benefits include lower costs associated with the basic and field training of new officers, less man hours spent on background investigations and the hiring process, and officers with deeper roots and knowledge of the community that only grows with longevity.
I am hopeful the City Council as a whole will be united in its decisions moving forward, especially in its commitment to a fair and thorough investigation of all aspects concerning issues internally at the Police Department. I encourage the Council to ensure the upcoming investigatory process protects those who are willing to speak with investigators and that all members of the police department and some former members of the department are allowed to participate. In order to make certain officers who cooperate in the investigatory process freely give information, I ask that the Council make certain that the identities of all who participate be protected and that interviews are conducted at a neutral site away from the Police Department and City Hall.
The Council should seek out a firm with experience in conducting these types of inquiries and should strive to do better than retired judges, troopers, or employees of the Municipal Technical Advisory Service to perform such an important and sensitive inquiry. Retired individuals are not likely to have the resources or the experience required for an evaluation of an entire agency. The officers at the Oak Ridge Police Department deserve better guarantees of neutrality and better guarantees of protection from potential retaliation. Unless the Council finds a disinterested third party, preferably a professional firm that can conduct an inquiry of this magnitude, then the Council is likely to receive a report that is not fully accurate.
I haven’t yet had the opportunity to discuss this matter with our chapter’s executive board; however, we will be undertaking this issue at our next meeting. I know there many opinions and ideas regarding the status of Chief Akagi as this process moves forward, and I want to make it clear that any decision made should consider the trust officers have in their administration and whether citizens of Oak Ridge will be able to maintain faith in their Police Department. In order for police departments to maintain the trust of the community, their operations and administrations must operate transparently without even the faintest hint of impropriety.
I hope the Council will support the police officers who come to work every single day knowing it could be their last, leaving their families behind and often alone on nights, weekends, and holidays. I know several officers at this police department, and I can easily say that the men and women of the Oak Ridge Police Department strive to be professional, and they only ask to be treated in a manner that dignifies their sacrifice and commitment to service.
Thank you for your support of the rank and file members of the police department and your commitment to seeking the truth.
William N. Kain
Knox County Chapter
Southern States PBA