Turnover in the Oak Ridge Police Department is one of several issues at the heart of a contentious debate over the ORPD and its chief, James T. Akagi.
But since the debate started in late January, there hasn’t been much public discussion of how the turnover rate compares, in either numbers or percentages, to the rate before Akagi started on July 1, 2011.
Information requested by Oak Ridge Today and provided by the Oak Ridge Personnel Department and Personnel Director Penny Sissom sheds some light. That data goes back more than eight years, starting in Calendar Year 2007. That’s roughly 4.5 years before Akagi started and more than 3.5 years since.
Oak Ridge Today analyzed the data by calendar year (January-December) and fiscal year (July 1-June 30). The data shows that ORPD turnover ebbs and flows from year to year, with a high of 19 and a low of one.
Oak Ridge Police Department Turnover (2007-2015)
Here are the numbers by calendar year (CY), from January to December, based on city data:
- CY 2007—19
- CY 2008—8
- CY 2009—3
- CY 2010—7
- CY 2011—18 (9 before Oak Ridge Police Chief Jim Akagi started July 1, 9 after)
- CY 2012—10
- CY 2013—7
- CY 2014—7
- Partial year (CY 2015)—3
Here are the numbers by fiscal year (FY), a period that starts July 1 each year and ends June 30 the next:
- FY 2007-08—14
- FY 2007-09—9
- FY 2009-10—1
- FY 2010-11—15
- FY 2011-12—16 (First year under Akagi)
- FY 2012-13—3
- FY 2013-14—11
- Partial year (FY 2014-15)—6
The Oak Ridge Police Department has 78 total budgeted positions, including supervisors, patrol, clerical, dispatch, and the animal shelter. These numbers do not include school crossing guards.
By calendar year, the high point of 19 occurred in Calendar Year 2007 under former Oak Ridge Police Chief David H. Beams, according to the city data. The low point of one in Fiscal Year 2009-2010 was also under Beams.
By fiscal year, a high point of 16 occurred in the first full fiscal year under Akagi (July 1, 2011-June 30, 2012).
Other peaks included:
- Calendar Year 2011, when there 18 terminations (nine before Akagi started and nine after);
- Fiscal Year 2010-2011, the fiscal year before Akagi started, when there were 15; and
- Fiscal Year 2007-2008, when there 14.
Other low points of three each were in Calendar Year 2009 (Beams) and in Fiscal Year 2012-2013 (Akagi).
There were 25 terminations in the three fiscal years before Akagi started, and 30 in the three years after he started. Terminations include resignations, retirements, dismissals, deaths, and removals.
The numbers show a range of terminations in some other years between seven and 10.
“Amazing when you actually look at more data than has been thrown around in the news,” said Oak Ridge City Council member Kelly Callison, who proposed a 30-day review of the Police Department by a University of Tennessee agency. That inquiry has been approved by City Council. “Sorry to say that this was not the first thing the Council asked for before we launched our review.”
Callison said City Council took the turnover numbers provided by Council member Trina Baughn, who has requested an investigation of the chief and his department on several fronts, “as somehow out of the ordinary, when, in fact, they are not so different from what we were seeing before.” Those numbers “conveniently started at the beginning of Chief Akagi’s term,” Callison said.
But Baughn said the current City Council has not heard complaints of retaliation and low morale from officers who departed prior to 2011.
“We have, however, heard from at least 10 past and present officers who have asked us for our help,” she said. “They have let us know that we cannot rely on anyone other than the individuals themselves for the reasons behind their departures. Thus, we’ve initiated an investigative process.”
Baughn has estimated the turnover rate as 15 percent per year or 40 percent total since Akagi started almost four years ago. She has said the ORPD turnover rate appears to be higher than the city-wide turnover rate and significantly higher than the rate in the Knoxville Police Department. In late January, Baughn said the employees that have left the Oak Ridge Police Department had 335 years of experience, with an average tenure of 11 years.
“Without context, one might infer from your statistics that we’ve suffered up to a 100 percent turnover rate since 2007,” Baughn said when asked for comment on the numbers provided by Oak Ridge Today, which were based on city data. “We know that is not true, but it is clear that we’ve suffered an attrition rate much greater than our nearest competitors.”
Turnover is one of three issues expected to be examined in the review of the ORPD by the Municipal Technical Advisory Service at UT. The other two are morale and administrative policies. The Oak Ridge City Council is scheduled to continue discussing that MTAS review during a Tuesday evening work session.
City officials say that turnover in the Oak Ridge Police Department is not new. It was a topic that was sometimes discussed during budget talks in the mid- to late-2000s when Beams met with the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee. At the time, at least some of the officers were reported to have left ORPD to go work as security police officers at U.S. Department of Energy sites in Oak Ridge. Officials say the Oak Ridge Fire Department also sometimes lost employees to the federal facilities.
Several officials and police officers have suggested that the numbers don’t tell the whole story. That would appear to include Baughn and Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson.
“Interesting stats,” Watson said when asked for comment on the turnover numbers. “However, each number has a reason as you have eluded to.”
In a termination analysis prepared by the Oak Ridge Personnel Department and requested by Oak Ridge Today, not all of the job terminations between 2007 and 2015 had comments. But for those that did, there were a range of explanations. In some cases, employees took another job, sometimes out of state, sometimes in-state, and sometimes with the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Anderson County, or Wackenhut (the former federal security contractor in Oak Ridge). In others, a resignation was requested. Sometimes, employees resigned for family reasons or to pursue another career or to work “straight days.” There were also retirements, a few deaths, two dismissals, and one removal. One employee resigned to run for sheriff, another for medical reasons, and one to go to law school.
Most of the terminations applied to police officers, but other positions listed included chief, lieutenant, sergeant, detective, dispatcher, lead records specialist, administrative assistant, animal control, records technician, and trainee.
The numbers do not include school crossing guards, but they do include the animal shelter, supervisors, and the police chief on down.
Among at least a few current officers, there seems to be a concern that, in essence, the city has lost some good officers, and they want City Council to find out why. A few current officers have expressed concern about the relative lack of experience, particularly in the patrol division.
ORPD Officer John Thomas told City Council in April that there are only three patrol officers that have more than 10 years experience, and the division is “running short.” Some officers are leaving to go to neighboring agencies for lower pay and less benefits, Thomas said.
Officer Kyle Scott told Council that he has worked for ORPD for almost four years, and out of a 60-man department, he’s already been there longer than half of those in the patrol division.
Although the City Council didn’t initially agree to interview former workers, they have since expanded the scope of the MTAS review to possibly include former ORPD employees. But it’s not clear yet if MTAS, which had already started its inquiry using a random sample or cross-section of current employees, will agree to the expanded review.
A number of officials and residents have said they wouldn’t be surprised if there was initially some high turnover when Akagi started in 2011, pointing out that there is often significant change when a new manager starts.
“I have never been concerned about the first-year numbers,” Callison said. “There were lots of changes, and I am sure a number of the officers didn’t like them and decided to leave. You might even say that, anticipating changes following the retirement of Chief Beams, officers left the force even before Chief Akagi took charge.”
He said a complete analysis of turnover would also have to factor in things like the state of the economy, supplemental funding from Congress that allowed police departments to hire additional officers, growth of surrounding local police forces and the state police force, etc., “to really understand what was driving the turnover rate.”
Still, he said a review of morale, turnover, and administrative policies is worthwhile.
“(It’s) always good to get an independent review of where things are,” Callison said.
“I also think it would be worthwhile to pursue at least state accreditation of our police force,” he said. “Just another selling point why new families would want to chose Oak Ridge as the place to live.”
CPD, KPD turnover
Oak Ridge Today also requested information about turnover from a few other local law enforcement agencies.
Here are numbers provided by Clinton Police Chief Rick Scarbrough.
“We really don’t have a lot of turnover,” Scarbrough said.
The Clinton Police Department had 26 sworn officers from 2007 to 2013, added one position in 2013 to increase the size of the force to 27, and now has 30. That includes employees from the newest worker to the chief.
As in Oak Ridge, officers in Clinton leave for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s disciplinary, sometimes to go work for another department or to go to college, and sometimes the departure is over salary, for family reasons or to live in a new location, or to work at federal facilities in Oak Ridge. Officers have been gained and lost for some of those reasons, which can include working conditions.
Scarbrough attributes the low turnover at CPD to a culture of professionalism through training, work environment, and providing necessary equipment.
He said the entry level pay in Clinton is about $3,500 to $4,000 less than in Oak Ridge, and he hopes to increase the pay at CPD.
Scarbrough said the Police Department invests about $17,000 in someone—including academy, salary, benefits, field training, and equipment—even before they start in a car by themselves. The city can end up investing $100,000 in an employee, including time, money, and equipment.
Darrell DeBusk, public information officer for the Knoxville Police Department, also provided turnover information. But he sent a caveat.
“Please keep in mind that comparing ORPD with KPD is really not a fair comparison,” DeBusk said. “It really is apples to oranges.”
Like Watson and others, he suggested there is more to the story than just numbers.
“An outside chief is always brought in for a reason and that is to make change,” DeBusk said. “You have to dig deeper to get to the reasons for people leaving. Some are asked to leave. Some leave for other opportunities. Some leave out of frustration from change, which in most cases is because they were not selected to become the new chief or were reassigned for whatever reason.”
Here are the KPD numbers. The Department has 403 sworn officers with an authorized strength of 417, and the KPD has about 103 civilian employees.
Those numbers include terminations, retirements, resignations, and deaths. Resignations were the reason cited most often. Some of the resignations came from recruits during field training phases.
It’s not the first time there has been discontent in the Oak Ridge Police Department. During the “blue flu” in September 1978, employees requested a 15 percent salary increase, union recognition, and improvements in their benefits, Sissom said. Employees picketing in front of City Hall were given specific orders to return to work, and they were told they would be deemed insubordinate if they didn’t and would be terminated. The employees returned to work, Sissom said.
The workers announced at a football game on October 6, 1978, that they were going into a 40-day cooling-off period, and their demands were not met, Sissom said.