An investigation of 10 claims by current and former officers against the Hiram police chief shows they felt the chief favored some officers over others and caused morale issues through his management style.
The report also included the findings of the investigation, which sometimes showed different results from the officers’ claims.
The firm Southern Professional Investigations, headed by Atlanta private investigator Jim Baker, did the report which was the result of interviews with 34 current and past officers and employees about unspecified “past and present morale issues and grievances in the Hiram Police Department.” It was released Feb. 16.
It also included some other issues raised by the employees, including charges that an intern had sex with officers; a full background check was not done on Vande Zande before he was hired; the chief did not properly secure an evidence room; and he “embellished” the record of an officer before he hired him away from the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office.
The claims and findings in the report included:
• Officers and city leaders claimed turnover was high during Vande Zande’s tenure. However, investigators found the turnover rate was “not as significant as previously thought” and slightly higher during previous chief Gary Yandura’s term.
The Yandura-led department had a 29 percent turnover rate (eight departing in 35 months), compared to 25 percent for Vande Zande (14 officers in 56 months), the report stated.
• Investigators noted the city council put Vande Zande under pressure to cut costly overtime. However, the chief hurt morale by changing officers’ shifts from 12 hours to 10 hours each. The move cut overtime costs by 40 percent but forced some officers to work on their off days.
“Chief Vande Zande did have the support of the mayor and city council members,” the report stated.
The chief later changed the shifts back to 12 hours but his “attitude” toward officers about the change “contributed” to morale problems, the report stated.
• They claimed the chief had a lack of empathy toward officers’ problems and used profanity, which the findings supported by citing City Manager Jody Palmer’s October reprimand of Vande Zande for using it with officers.
• Officers claimed the chief denied them training for not writing enough traffic citations. One officer, Jared McLaughlin, who requested the training was passed over in favor of Officer Jennifer Darr, the report stated.
• Interviewees claimed the chief gave preferential treatment to Darr, a new officer, by giving her a take-home police vehicle while other officers drove their personal vehicles; and allowing her to ride in a police vehicle wearing a uniform and firearm during work before she completed her training.
Baker reported Darr had qualified for using a firearm but did not get qualified for emergency vehicle operation and did not answer calls by herself.
The interviewed officers also believed Darr should have been reprimanded for a personal incident while she was in training at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center because another officer had been reprimanded for an incident at a local business. Baker reported Vande Zande said Darr was not reprimanded because she had been off-duty.
• Officers told investigators Vande Zande hired Edwin Ivey as a training sergeant without all the tests administered to other new officers. The findings were that Vande Zande hurt morale by saying he had the prerogative not to pay for tests for Ivey because Ivey already was employed by the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office.
Other issues for current and past officers the report found included:
• Officers told investigators Vande Zande had told two officers, including Acree, they were “uneducated, fat and lazy.” Investigators said the chief never used those derogatory words but had told them they needed more education to advance in the ranks.
• They also told investigators a female intern who rode with various officers during patrols had sex with three officers. The report found the intern denied the sex occurred but said she briefly “dated” one officer, investigators said.
• Investigators also checked employees’ claims that Vande Zande embellished Ivey’s record as a law enforcement instructor. The findings showed the chief said Ivey had 14 years experience when investigators could verify only nine years, though they admitted other forms of instruction may have been counted.
• An evidence room alarm had been deactivated and the chief wrote security codes on the boxes themselves, employees claimed. Vande Zande told investigators Acree supervised the evidence room and he had not authorized deactivation of the alarm. He admitted codes had been written on boxes but they were in a secured area.
• Former city manager Robby Rokovitz told investigators a full background check was not done on Vande Zande prior to his hiring despite it being done on other new officers.
However, Rokovitz said he talked to references Vande Zande gave him, and the city council unanimously voted to hire Vande Zande despite some council members doing their own background checks.