The Bluffton Police Department just took a potshot at the public that is petty and unnecessary.
The department erected a new barricade between itself and the people it serves by making it harder for the public to find out about crime and public safety in their own neighborhoods.
The public will no longer be able to get timely details about incidents responded to by the police.
Reports with full narratives will no longer be released in real time.
Instead, the public will have to file a formal Freedom of Information request. This is a hassle, and it can slow down the release of information for weeks, depending on how much a governmental body wants to game the system.
The new policy is a gross disservice to the public. There is no administrative need for it. No other local law enforcement agency has such a policy. The public has both a right and a public-safety need to see in real time crucial information the police department is now hiding from them.
The policy change appears aimed at this newspaper, but we’re not the issue. It won’t stop us from reporting vital public information. It may make it harder and slower, but the ones hurt by this policy are the citizens, not the newspaper.
The policy was introduced a day after we reported that overtime pay in the Bluffton Police Department during Hurricane Matthew last year was disproportionately high when compared to other police departments in the county. Most of the department’s 50 employees were paid nearly 200 hours in overtime. Former Police Chief Joey Reynolds made $16,216 in overtime during the period, and current Police Chief Joseph Manning made $12,343.
We also reported that an anonymous complaint within the department was made to former chief Reynolds, claiming that officers, including a supervisor, were rumored to have gotten drunk during the time they were being paid overtime for working the hurricane. No internal investigation was conducted, and Reynolds ruled there was nothing to it.
Reynolds retired last year after we reported that he had traveled out of town for almost five of the most recent 15 months, including to places like Argentina, Chile and Morocco, in his separate role as a board member of an international police organization — mostly while receiving his regular taxpayer-funded annual salary of $118,000.
His overall travel time connected to his involvement with the FBI National Academy Associates was almost 10 months, or about 17 percent, of his nearly five-year tenure as chief. The estimated cost to Bluffton taxpayers while he was absent: $78,738. In addition, he was eligible for a cash payout of as much as $41,911 for his unused paid time off when he retired.
As Chief Manning told a reporter asking about the high overtime bill, town manager Marc Orlando “takes care of his people.”
But now, the police department is doing the exact opposite to the people it serves — the public, the taxpayers.
The public now has to jump through bureaucratic hoops simply to get basic, timely information from the police department about public safety on their own streets.
It’s not right.