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Rincon Council members uphold officer’s suspension

POSTED: July 14, 2011 7:43 p.m.

Rincon City Council members have upheld the suspension of a police officer who was disciplined for being involved in three collisions but reduced the amount of pay he was docked.

Richard Reale was placed on three-day suspension without pay on May 4, totaling 36 hours of pay. Reale, according to the findings of fact in his June 30 appeal hearing, was in three separate accidents that resulted in almost $3,800 worth of repairs.

Because police officers work 12-hour shifts, instead of the typical eight-hour days for city employees, Reale’s loss of pay was for 36 hours. Council members reinstated 18 hours of pay for Reale, because the incidents were negligent in nature, Reale had been sanctioned for one incident already and other city employees would be suspended only 24 hours for a three-day suspension.

In his appeal, Reale requested the suspension be withdrawn and a written reprimand. Reale contended that the personnel policy outlines either verbal or written counseling as a first step, verbal reprimand, written reprimand, suspension and ultimately termination.

Reale received no punishment for a Feb. 17 incident and was issued a written counseling statement for the second incident, which took place March 18. He was suspended following the third incident on May 4.

In upholding his suspension, council members held that as a police officer, Reale is held to a higher standard of conduct than most citizens and city employees because he is empowered to enforce traffic laws.

“Cpl. Reale should set a standard which complies with state law when operating a motor (vehicle) while on duty as a police officer,” council members found. “Incidents do occur no matter how careful or attentive a person may act. However, the number of incidents committed by Cpl. Reale does warrant sanctions against him which are more progressive than a written reprimand.”

Council members also said the suspension was not excessive and did not cause a disparity in punishment of city employees. Reale was not punished for the first accident and only received a verbal counseling for the second incident, which was far more severe than either the first or third accidents, council members said.

Reale also was requested to improve his awareness and defensive driving skills within 60 days of his appeal hearing.

Council members also said the city may want to revisit its policy on suspensions and when those are administered since most employees have a right to appeal that type of discipline.

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