InDEPTH with Brad Byrd: Face-to-face the Chief, FOP President

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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – To serve and protect. We’ve seen that mission statement so many times.

But in the past month, those words have been eclipsed by tensions inside the Evansville Police Department.

The FOP held a vote that ended up with a blistering interpretation of the performance of Police Chief Billy Bolin.

The ‘no confidence vote’ prompted debate within the department, on-air and on social media.

Eyewitness News’ Brad Byrd will talk with Evansville Police Chief Billy Bolin and FOP President Sgt. DJ Thompson about that vote and the issues at hand.

FULL TRANSCRIPTION:

Brad Byrd: Welcome to this special edition of in-depth. To serve and protect. We have seen that mission statement so many times…Often on police cruisers. But in the past month those words have been eclipsed by tensions inside the Evansville Police Department. The fop held a vote that ended up with a blistering interpretation of the performance of Chief Billy Bolin. The no confidence vote prompted debate within the department, on the air and on social media. Here is how we reached this point tonight.

Active and retired officers cast the no confidence vote at fop lodge 73. It was lopsided ranging from 70 to 82 percent who said ‘no confidence in several areas of performance. I reached out to both chief Billy Bolin and fop president DJ. Thompson to appear on in-depth. Both agree to be in this studio in separate appearances. But it was this question I asked that brought them both together here tonight.(Brad): “after these independent appearances, you’re going to be on tonight, we’re taping this in the afternoon, but it’s going to air tonight. Would you be willing to sit down –
(Chief Bolin): Yes.
(Brad) With him sitting right here where you are right now to talk to him about the issues facing this community?
(Chief Bolin): Absolutely! I’d be more than glad to.”
(Brad): And last Thursday, Will you do that? Side by side with Chief Bolin.
(Sgt. Thompson): I’ll need a bigger chair.
(Brad) We have extra chairs.
(Sgt. Thompson): yes, yes, I would do that.

The fop vote of no confidence is non-binding. It is the first in history such a vote has been cast in the Evansville FOP regarding the performance of a chief. This vote spilled out into the public domain on social media – some very unfiltered comments. Tonight, I want to emphasize I am not negotiator and definitely not an arbitrator. I like to call it a conversation and not a debate. Chief Bolin and Sgt. Thompson I want to welcome you back tonight, above all I’m not trying to give away any tactical information in your efforts to fight crime. Let’s begin Sgt. Thompson – why did it take this – in your opinion – to get these issues out a no confidence vote? Why did you use an extraordinary method like that?

DJ Thompson: I believe our purpose was – we had, had several conversations with the Chief and we’ve also had conversations with the Mayor – I don’t feel like what we were asking for or our issues were being heard. Pretty much being ignored. I think it was to an extent that I don’t believe the Chief thought it was coming from the whole department as a whole, but just that it was coming from me and some other people.

Brad Byrd: Chief, what do you think about that?

Billy Bolin: I absolutely think they were being heard. We’ve had numerous discussions. I think it boils down to – they didn’t like the answer they were getting sometimes, and I haven’t thought it’s just him I think our biggest issue right now is manpower shortage. And we are down officers and I’ve never denied that. The problem, at least from my view, it’s not something I’m doing to run the officers off and a lot of times Pres. Thompson will insinuate that I’m running people off that it’s my fault. It’s a nationwide epidemic. Anybody sitting at home right now can get on Google and look up police shortages nationwide. In the past week, I think you had Jermaine from the Henderson Police Department on – and I had lunch the other day with Sheriff Brady. I know it’s on this side of the bridge, like it is in Indiana. I’m on the chiefs of police board of directors for the state of Indiana – all over police departments are short. This isn’t a great time that people want to come into our profession. And if you’re working at a bar and your bartender quits, you hire someone tomorrow and you have a new bartender. When we somebody who quits, we have to go through a months-long process of trying to find the best applicant to do this profession we have and then once we hire them, they have to go to the police academy and they have to go through a training program. So, if somebody quits tomorrow, we’re going to be a year from now before we have that officer back on the street. Where if you have somebody quit here in the studio, you’ll probably have somebody within a couple weeks. We don’t have that luxury. But it’s tough for us. I know that we’re short. I absolutely know that. I’m not saying that we’re not. I just don’t have a magic fix for it. And all the departments out there don’t either.

Brad Byrd: Well, in one of the statements of the FOP Sgt. Thompson, “rather than focusing on the safety of our citizens, the day-to-day operations Chief Bolin chooses to expend his energy, efforts and taxpayer dollars to projects that are important to him.” Pretty strong language there – what do you mean by that based on what the Chief has just said?

DJ Thompson: The whole idea of that was we have several organizations that are ran by police officers in our department – they’re all great organizations, nothing against them – they do great things in the community, we never denied that. The issue is that they are not police issues. They’re not police corporations or police businesses. They’re private organizations that are not run by the police department. We spend a lot of time or OT manning those and just getting those operating.

Brad Byrd: Chief Bolin, you say you have an open-door policy. They can come in and talk to you anytime or you could go to an FOP meeting. But the overwhelming nature of this vote had to be troubling to you – we talked about this two weeks ago. And what would you say to Sgt. Thompson about that? Are you listening when they talk?

Billy Bolin: I am listening. The problem is and he just did what I experience all the time. There’s not an example of one of these organizations where we’re spending department OT money to do this. You sent out an email and said 911 Gives Hope – the Chief cares more about that than OT. You can look through any book we have and you’re not going to find a penny we spent on 911 Gives Hope, it’s volunteer. Now, on the flip side, on the FOP contract, I’m contractually bound to give them 1,500 hours a year for business. That business that they request and I don’t argue with is FOP Softball tournaments, FOP Basketball tournaments, people working the Fall Festival booths to raise money for the FOP, I don’t disagree with them, I don’t argue with them – it’s in their contract, I let them have them. But then he paints it like I’m letting officers off for special events and he specifically said 911 Gives Hope. It’s never happened – not one time.

Brad Byrd: How do you respond to that? You were shaking your head on one of those comments.

DJ Thompson: I believe – and I don’t know the dates – a couple years ago there was a fundraiser at a car dealership on the north side, I know there were several officers were paid OT to work and I know we had some specialty units there that received OT.

Billy Bolin: That’s not 911 Gives Hope. That’s an EPD function, it was for the Cops Connecting with Kids where we take kids to Disney World – the goal there is to build relationships with youth and underserved areas of the city that normally don’t like the police, or they don’t trust the police. We’ve been on here talking about it. That’s an EPD ran event. And so, at that event, we did. That was a few years ago. We had the same event this year and we didn’t spend a penny on it. I don’t think we spent any last year, but we did a few years ago. But that’s one time and it’s an EPD event that builds relationships in our city.

Brad Byrd: We’re gonna take a quick break here and talk about: Is there bad blood? Is this a contemptuous relationship?

Brad Byrd: Bad blood. This is my third conversation with both of you, the first time I’ve had both of you together. Correct me if I’m wrong. I’m not trying to be maudlin or naive, but just talking to both of you independently and here, It doesn’t seem like bad blood would be a fair perception of the relationship between you two.Am I barking up the wrong tree?

DJ Thompson: I think chief might have a different perception of it. I’m not the one on the end of the boat as he is. I have no ill will toward Chief at all. As a matter of fact, I’ve said many times in every interview I’ve done, he’s a great man. Does a lot of great stuff for the community…It’s just that the part I deal with him with is the leadership of the police dept.

Brad Byrd: It’s pretty tough to get a shellacking like that. Where do you go from here? I see two men here, two ranking officers of the Evansville Police Department carrying on a conversation. How many conversations like this have you had with the FOP?

Billy Bolin: You know, fop is every officer we have so I have conversations every day. DJ and I, back to your main question, we see things differently a lot, but I don’t think, I wouldn’t call it bad blood. We argue, but I don’t think we’ve ever raised our voices at each other.

DJ Thompson: one time

Billy Bolin: I don’t even remember the time, but so we disagree. But we’ve got the same end goal in mind, and I’ve known from the day I started at the Evansville Police Department, every chief I’ve ever worked for, the FOP leadership, and there’s been different leadership over the years, has told me it’s the worst chief we’ve ever had, the morale is the lowest it’s ever been. And then you get a new chief, and it’s the worst chief and it’s the lowest morale. And I will promise you, whoever follows me, you’ll hear at some point that their the worst chief and it’s the lowest morale. That’s what they do. That’s what I came into 8 years ago. That’s what I’ve dealt with for 8 years behind the scenes. So, as I said, this wasn’t a shock to me. It’s what I’ve been dealing with before I ever made a decision. It’s kind of the norm in our profession. And I had a good friend in the banking industry that said to me earlier today I can’t imagine in our world if we could take a vote on whether we like the CEO of our bank or not. Most businesses don’t get to do that. And I would imagine most businesses would have issues with the person at the top.

Brad: With that said, Sgt. Thompson, you can take this first. Here we are, both of you are 20 to 25 year veterans of law enforcement?

Sgt. Thompson: 30, yes.

Chief Bolin: 24.

Brad: 24. Okay. Well, here we are many years later sitting here and we do have a police department, at least perception wise, that the public is seeing, not just on social media but there’s been some strong comments made. Where do we go from here? How is this going to be healed in the department, if it could potentially affect an officers ability to keep people safe? I’ll give that one to you first.

Sgt. Thompson: I don’t think that vote that we had has anything to do with keeping the community safe. We have very dedicated officers. By officers, I mean our detectives, our administration, our motor patrol guys. I think this is very important to them but at the same time they have a job. They’re doing this job because the vast majority of them really love doing this job and I think an argument between the chief and I, or the FOP and the chief, or anyone else is not going to affect the quality of the work that our officers do.

Brad: Would it be more productive, though…and I’ll ask both of you…this could have just stayed inside one office there at the Civic Center instead of this. I mean, the minute that news release came out, okay, both sides, those people that supported the chief, those people that supported the FOP…it was a flood of comment on social media. People were talking about it. It was dominating our newscasts, not only here but elsewhere. What’s the best way to go about this? I mean, this is a historic vote. Chief, you may have voted like that 20 years ago if you’d had pressure.

Chief Bolin: I have no doubt I would’ve.

Brad: So where do we go from here?

Chief Bolin: I think we continue working together. We’ve already had a pre-scheduled labor management meeting just the other day. It was very cordial. Nothing has changed as far as my relationship with him. I told him the day he became president, my door is always open. Afternoons are typically easier to catch me. He’s done it before, he knows he can walk in. We may not always agree on the conversations we have, but I’m open. And if it’s something we can jointly do to benefit our officers, benefit the public, I’m extremely open to that. I think you would have to admit I’ve said yes to your requests more than I have said no. There’s issues that we disagree on, but I say yes quite a bit.

Sgt. Thompson: A fair share.

Chief Bolin: So, it’s not that I’m just refusing to listen. It’s just sometimes labor and management disagree about how you go about something, and that’s…not to steal your word, but in your press conference you said petty. We’ve got petty disagreements and it’s became public. Do I wish it was public? No. I don’t.

Brad: I’ll ask you both a question very quickly. My enemy is the clock here. Would a private meeting between you two, without the glare of these TV lights or a television news anchor talking to you, would that type of a meeting now after all this has happened, let the dust settle, do you feel there will be progress made to basically soothe the wounds that have taken place inside that department?

Chief Bolin: I think it will be just like…Like I said, I’ve always been open. I’m still going to be open. I’m going to be professional. I’m going to be transparent. I’m going to be nice. And I’ll continue doing those things.

Brad: Do you think there’s some room fore improvement in that?

Sgt. Thompson: I think there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Brad: On both sides?

Sgt. Thompson: Maybe on both sides. I know I had been asked earlier, pretty much the same question. So, my goal would be to take the vote a year from now and the numbers to be flipped. There would be nothing more I would like than that, that everything is going well and that we have just complete confidence in the leadership of our department.

Brad: Thank you both for being here. I know it’s been a tough month.

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(This story was originally published on September 30, 2019)

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