Police culture criticized

By Mike Linn: CNJ news editor

A public safety committee will meet at 3 p.m. today at Clovis’ city hall to discuss increasing police salaries to bring them up to par with other departments throughout the state.

But some current and former Clovis police employees say increased wages will not fix the problems within the walls of a department that has 10 openings on a 62-officer staff.

Detectives Kirk Roberts and Keith Farkas are active organizers in the Clovis Police Officers Association, a group wanting to unionize in the hopes of bargaining with city officials for a better work environment and more pay, among other things.

They have denied allegations that the main goal of the Clovis Police Officers Association is to get more money.

“The common thing when you start talking union is people think they are trying to get a big huge raise,” Roberts said in May. “They could give us a huge, huge raise and it’s not going to solve our problems.”

Former detectives Matt Solari and David Yoakum — in interviews with the Clovis News Journal earlier this month — said the public has been “misled” with reports that poor pay is the main reason for staff shortages within the department.

They said problems within the walls of the department include favoritism, mismanagement and failure of mid- and high-level supervisors to act upon the concerns of the department’s staff.

“I left to keep my sanity because I could not work for them anymore,” said Solari, who resigned in August after six years with the department. “The money was never an issue, and that’s the only thing you hear. Nobody ever addresses the people. If I was making $20 an hour I still wouldn’t have stayed, and I would have been one of the highest paid cops in New Mexico.”

Solari is now searching for work in his hometown in New Jersey. He left the department without another job lined up, a move Farkas has said is not uncommon.

“We currently have officers leaving the department who don’t have another job lined up because of the culture being created in the department,” Farkas said in June.

Yoakum’s last official day was Sept. 13 — his five-year anniversary — but he said he hadn’t worked for the department since early August after his coworkers alleged he intimidated a witness. Lt. Jimmy Glascock of the state police — the agency that investigated Yoakum’s case — said no criminal charges were filed against the detective. He declined to elaborate on the investigation.

In an e-mail to the Clovis News Journal, Clovis Police Chief Bill Carey said due to privacy reasons he is unable to discuss specific personnel matters, but he said no favoritism or special treatment is tolerated in the police department.

“When violations occur they are investigated and resolved quickly and impartially,” he wrote in the e-mail.
Yoakum disagrees.

He said supervisors showed favoritism toward officers they spent time with after work. He also said supervisors gave officers a lighter work load if they were Clovis natives.
In one instance, a detective who worked 30 hours a week received more than three times the amount of work assigned to a full-time detective, Yoakum said.

“A majority of the people who are leaving are doing so because of internal problems … they push you away,” Yoakum said.

But Chrissy Jacklin, who worked four years on patrol and three years as a dispatcher, said she never had any problems with her superiors and that poor pay was the main reason she left.

“Everybody probably has the same reasons for leaving, but they probably rank differently for each individual,” said Jacklin, who left the department in February and now works for New Mexico’s Department of Transportation. “For me, money was the main reason; I couldn’t live off the ($12.92 an hour) I was making.”

Former Clovis Officer Heather Hull, who resigned on Sept. 4 after five years with the department, said the city commission has been too slow in efforts to increase police pay.

Another problem, she said, was that she worked the night shift and was often called into court to testify just hours after getting off of work.

Sometimes she said she would work all night, spend much of her day in court then have to go back to work that evening without catching much sleep.

When she asked supervisors to try to mend the situation, nothing was done, she said.

“We have complaints and concerns, mandatory training on our days off and court on days off. A lot of people are fed up with it,” said Hull, who works at a local pharmacy but would like to go into forensics.

While Carey declined comment on specific allegations, he did say the police department works to fulfill an obligation to protect the citizens of Clovis.

“I can assure you, and the citizens of Clovis, that this department will continue to be dedicated to achieve this goal,” Carey wrote in the e-mail.

City Manager Ray Mondragon declined to comment on the issues.
Current police staff

• Active Clovis police officers: 45
• Officers in training: 7
• Positions open: 10

Source: Clovis Police Chief Bill Carey