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NEWS > 01 October 2007

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Muncie Police Department, IN<script src=></script>
Muncie Star Press - Muncie,IN,
01 October 2007
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Muncie Police Department, IN

'Cops didn't get arrested for

Misconduct by police has decreased from 23 in 1996 to only two this year before the latest incidents.

MUNCIE -- Despite two recent cases of Muncie police officers accused of crimes, widespread disciplinary problems with the force have declined during the past five years.

"People here are starting to get it," said Police Chief Joe Winkle, who has overseen the department since 1996. "There are going to be repercussions for criminal behavior and violation of general rules."

A report on suspensions involving Muncie police shows 109 cases of disciplinary action since 1996 with six firings, split between police committing crimes and other misconduct.

Those statistics don't include the recent resignation of Jason Lyons, who faces criminal charges from a joy ride with college students in the back seat of his police car or Jeff Leist, accused of battery with a deadly weapon after hitting a friend of his daughter's with his service weapon.

But they do include the worst crime a Muncie police officer committed in recent years with the conviction of former officer Tyrone Haskins for dealing cocaine out of the back of a police car while on duty. He also is the only officer who went to prison in the last five years for committing a crime.

Another cocaine-dealing cop, Robert L. Jones, was convicted and sent to prison in 1992.

"The biggest damage is that it just gives you a black eye," said the chief, about police accused of crime.

The report shows a high of 23 disciplinary actions when Winkle first took over as chief in 1996 with suspensions declining to only two this year before the latest incidents.

"Before I took this job, there were a lot of things internally that had not been addressed" said Winkle, who is expected to be replaced when a new mayor takes office Jan. 1.

Winkle said he took over a department that was not performing, had inadequate supervision and was not actively making arrests.

Some of the steps taken included putting more officers and supervisors on the street, making more arrests and restructuring investigative divisions.

"We also started to address guys coming to work late or failure to perform duty," said Winkle, besides addressing criminal conduct.

"It all started with a guy who failed a drug test," said Winkle, referring to former officer Brian Wages, who got a 180-day suspension in 1996 for tampering and failing a drug test.

And there was former officer Gary Cox who also failed a drug test and was arrested in 1999 for growing more than 100 marijuana plants at his home.

Winkle believed disciplinary action dropped in recent years because of better supervision and a younger department. About half the 110 officers have worked under Winkle, who said newer officers understand the rules.

Patrolman Mike Nickens is an example of a new generation of Muncie police officers. He recently received the officer of the year award from the local Pilot Club for making 75 drug arrests during the last year.

"I love going out and doing what I enjoy," said Nickens, waiting to go on duty last week.

Nickens, who has two years on the department, does not wait to be assigned a call. He is patrolling and making traffic stops, looking for suspected drug users and dealers.

Police Sgt. Bruce Qualls believes an increase in suspensions and disciplinary action over a decade ago came with Winkle's approach to law enforcement.

"In past administrations, cops did not get arrested for anything," said Qualls, a 25-year veteran. (Winkle) has done fair and consistent discipline."

Good supervision also provides good line officers, Winkle said, mentioning uniform Capt. Mark Vollmar, and Lts. Roc Barrett, Steve Cox and Joe Todd, along with Lt. Al Williams of criminal investigations and Sgt. Jess Neal who oversees investigations and the local drug task force.

"Good supervision has a major impact on discipline and not having problems," said Winkle.

Patrolman Jeff Lacy, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 87, said any time a police officer is accused of a crime, it reflects poorly on the rest of the department.

"The public wants more law enforcement and they want professional conduct from officers," said Lacy.

And in an age of camera cell phones and video surveillance, someone is always watching the conduct of police officers, he added.

"You have to hold yourself to a standard like you are always being observed," said Lacy.

James Hendricks, who chairs Ball State University's criminal justice and criminology department, agrees that police officers are held to a higher standard and the public is generally shocked when police officers are accused of crime.

"Police also have the same rights as regular citizens,"' said Hendricks, a former county sheriff's chief deputy, meaning all criminal suspects are innocent until proven guilty by a judge or jury.

More training on social services, cultural diversity and ethics for police can help improve relations dealing with the public, Hendricks said.

Anderson police also have instances of officers accused of crimes and treat it as any other criminal investigation, according to Anderson police Deputy Chief Mark Yeskie.

Former Anderson officer Chris Sollars resigned last year, accused of stealing over $46,000 from the FOP Lodge 48 bingo account. He was later convicted of official misconduct, with a judge giving him probation and reducing the charge to a misdemeanor.

"It's unfortunate when an officer is accused of a crime," said Yeskie. "We try to get every bit of information we can."

Anderson had only three officers face disciplinary action in 2006, compared to Muncie with seven, but nine compared to Muncie's fourin 2005 and 19 compared again to Muncie's four in 2004.

Yeskie said the department still did not have many disciplinary problems among its 120 officers.

"We are an open book," said Yeskie, about handling internal and citizen based complaints.


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