MOUNT VERNON — There is an obvious camaraderie between a group of retired Mount Vernon police officers. Their banter is quick and entangled with laughter. They have story after story about their careers serving the citizens of Mount Vernon, and just as many about their friendship. But when it comes to the reputation of the Mount Vernon Police Department, that discussion is nothing less than serious.
“We are all disgusted with the way things are going at the Mount Vernon Police Department,” said Randy Bowers, retired detective sergeant. “We worked really, really hard to do what was right and give the police department a good name.”
Bowers, along with Capt. George Curry, Sgt. Lee Black, Sgt. Jerry Thurston and Detective Wilson Warner, told the News they are pleased the city did the “right” thing by placing current Chief Mike Merrilees and Sgt. Robert “Kit” Morgan on administrative leave Friday, pending a BCI investigation, but they worry about the current officers, the public and the future of MVPD.
“We are concerned about the direction of the Mount Vernon Police Department,” said Curry. “We are concerned with the good officers trying to do a good job, who are catching all this crap on the street. ‘Are you going to steal my car because you are impounding it?’ or “Is there one for sale in the impound lot?’ They have heard it from the get go; they continue to hear it. It is not fair to them, its not fair to the public and it certainly is not fair to guys that built that reputation in the first place.”
Society was different back when these celebrated officers patrolled the street. Back then, they said, carrying a badge came with a basic level of respect.
“When we all started, you had to learn how to talk to people and treat people right. They in turn would treat you right,” Bowers said. “People didn’t treat us badly at all. I realize there is a difference in the total world atmosphere toward anybody with a badge. They used to respect it, but now they don’t. ... We had to earn that respect because that’s the only way to do it.”
When this group was on the department, if officers had a problem, they could go to City Council for help, and if council had a problem with the police department, it went straight to the source. That’s not the case anymore, they said.
“I absolutely have no faith in administration or council to do what they need to do to get the police department straightened up,” said Bowers.
“Council was made aware there was a problem how many years ago,” Curry said. “Several council members knew exactly what was going on and they did nothing about it.”
In order to “straighten up” the department, the retirees feel a new leader with a vested interest in the department is a step in the right direction.
“It takes a new chief of police that’s interested in the police department,” said Bowers. “That’s interested in the officer and interested in how the police department is perceived — not how I’m going to look, but how the group’s going to look,” said Bowers.
“Find somebody that’s a leader, that will earn their respect, that they will work for — that’s the key to the whole thing,” said Curry.
Black said the poor leadership and bad judgment in the department that is being scrutinized, not only affects those in the department, but also their families.
“Our families were proud,” Black said. “Now it’s spreading like a disease.”
For some, the change of guard goes higher than the police chief.
“You have to start at the top,” said Thurston. “I don’t know what there is about (Dave) Glass and the mayor that’s trying to protect Merrilees.”
The retirees understand the current situation at the department cannot be easy for the officers, but they have every faith in the ability of the Mount Vernon Police Department.
“Keep your head up, do your job, do it to the best of your ability,” Bowers said when asked what advice he would give to those on the department. “If they’ve got a problem they want to talk about, they can come to any one of us.”
“The retired guys are behind you 100 percent,” said Warner. “To the public that does support the old officers, we want them to know they need to trust the good officers that are there, and respect that. I think that’s important.”
“We understand the dilemma,” said Curry. “We hope somebody who is in control of the situation will make the right decisions. We are behind those guys — the good police officers that are trying to do their job — we are behind them 100 percent.”
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