When you go into these things, you go in with a clear optic. You don’t go in with preconceived notions about anybody or anything. It’s a clear optic. To do otherwise is to be tainted.Mark Gerbino, Rincon police chief
RINCON — An ongoing assessment by new Chief Mark Gerbino indicates that the Rincon Police Department has quite a ways to go before it reaches the bar necessary to achieve certification by leading police organizations.
In a December 2018 report to the Rincon City Council and City Manager John Klimm, Gerbino wrote, “Presently, the Rincon Police Department is not in an acceptable state per Georgia Accreditation Standards and GCIC (Georgia Crime and Information Center) statutory requirements. In fact, should the department have been audited by authorities prior to my arrival, the possibility of revocation of its certification at a minimum, and perhaps some criminal violations may have been a result.”
Gerbino took over the Rincon Police Department on Oct. 22, 2018. He succeeded Phillip Scholl, who resigned in July 2018 to pursue other interests.
During his interview process, Gerbino committed to conducting an assessment of the Rincon Police Department and issue a report of his findings. He is a certified State of Georgia law enforcement agency manager and assessor who has evaluated other police department in Georgia and internationally, including in Jamaica and Somalia.
“All that means is that I have the tools to make an assessment,” Gerbino said during a Feb. 6 interview in his office. “An assessment is really a template for change.”
The objective of Gerbino’s assessment is to identify all department deficiencies so that they can be corrected in order for the department to achieve accreditation by the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police.
Areas of assessment include:
— Police building and facilities
— Police vehicles and equipment
— Records and data management
— Staffing and resource allocation
— Organizational structure
— Morale and personnel issues
— Community perception and community relationships.
“When you go into these things, you go in with a clear optic,” Gerbino said. “You don’t go in with preconceived notions about anybody or anything. It’s a clear optic.
“To do otherwise is to be tainted.”
Gerbino’s report begins with a look at the department’s external relationships. He solicited feedback from other city department heads, community members, church leaders and congregation members, prosecutors, defense attorneys and civil attorneys.
“Input from businesses in the city reflect a positive impression of the line officers,” he said, “although there has some negativity from church leaders and congregation members.”
Gerbino also sought opinions from other area law enforcement agencies.
“I didn’t see a dire situation,” Gerbino said. “What I heard was concerns about working with your agency. The line level officers back each other up but the concerns about interagency cooperation existed.”
Some agencies reported a spirit of cooperation with the Rincon Police Department, he added.
“It’s there, so I’m not going to not report on it,” Gerbino said.
The chief said all area agencies have expressed a strong willingness to establish partnerships. Some, however, desire to see some changes in his department, Gerbino said.
“They are in a wait-and-see status,” he said. “They don’t know me.”
Gerbino said Effingham County Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie has been a team builder. He conducts periodic meetings with police chiefs in the county.
“That’s what chiefs should be doing — cohesion,” Gerbino said. “There were concerns about how we operated — we, the police department — and how we interacted with other agencies.”
Gerbino is receptive to outside assistance, he said.
“I don’t want to help them. I want them to help me. I’m brand new,” he said. “I want them to help me and then I want to return the help when I get up and running here. Remember, I am the one with the challenges so I am asking them for help.”
In his report, Gerbino cited an incident that he said reflected poorly on his department and its willingness to work with other agencies.
“... I received a call from a chief of police at a sister agency in Effingham County. He asked me why I hadn’t been at a recent meeting on Dec. 5, 2018, for Mass Evacuation Planning hosted by the Effingham County Office of Emergency Management. I informed him that I wasn’t aware of the meeting. He sent me a copy of the e-mail he received inviting participants to the meeting. The e-mail reflected that the invitation was sent to the current lieutenant/former interim chief. Essentially, the Rincon Police Department was absent. The current lieutenant/former interim chief did not inform me, nor did he attend due to taking a day off. On Dec. 6, 2018, I asked him about the e-mail and meeting, and he responded by saying that it was ‘nothing.’ I am currently handing this situation.”
The lieutenant/interim chief referred to in the report is Jose Ramirez, who was terminated last month. Ramirez, who notified city officials that he is appealing his dismissal, served as interim chief from the time of Scholl’s resignation until Gerbino was hired.
In the final pages of his report, Gerbino wrote, “The current lieutenant/former interim chief resists change and, in some cases, subverts my ability to be effective.”
Ramirez, a 12-year veteran of the department, is referenced several times in the report. Once instance says, “During the interim process, this individual was responsible for the Rincon Police Department. This is quite concerning. Deniability of responsibility, as has been the case with this individual, cannot be accepted because it is not plausible that he engaged in these roles yet holds no responsibility for the existence of these conditions or the outcomes described here-in under his command.
“In discussions with him, I have expressed a desire to help him, yet he continues to deny that he had a role in contributing to the condition of the Rincon Police Department and deflects the responsibility to others.”
Gerbino’s report says the department “remains in need of restructuring, organizationally and systematically.”
The department has an authorized strength of 22 approved sworn positions and two civilian positions. Currently, four of the sworn posts are vacant.
“Department personnel reported to one lieutenant yet there was not such rank, or title. There was not table of organization and operations were fragmented,” the report says.
The chief has been reviewing personnel files.
“I want to see who my people are and if they are trained properly,” he said. “I just want to see if a proper background investigation has been done on them.”
“There is a consistent lack of detail of the background process in the personnel file folders, as well as due diligence that was invested in vetting employees,” his report states.
Gerbino’s report says the department’s Internal Affairs files are in poor condition and non-existent in most cases. It also states that the department’s Standard Operating Procedure Manual is dated 2009.
“The assessment findings of facts include that the department was managed with little coordination, poor communications, as well as minimal operations systems and low compliance to key roles and responsibilities,” the report says. “Additionally, decisions on very sensitive issues were tainted by poor judgement and a lack of experience. As I research the causes for the decisions, and responsibility for these poor decisions, everything is being deflected to the former chief by the present lieutenant/former interim chief.”
In his report, Gerbino mentions that Ramirez presented him a table of organization that he desired the department to follow.
“That vision reflected a limited number of patrol officers and several specialized units,” the report says. “The vision was inefficient and not based upon facts. However, it is not for me to assume that this motivation was born from anything but inexperience, lack of depth, overconfidence or, in some cases, malice, unless otherwise proven. After seven weeks, the first three are definite. The last is a probability based on supportive facts. I am not hesitant to take appropriate action if needed. I have informed him that I will not tolerate in appropriate or illegal behaviors from anyone under my command.
“While it is wise not to criticize prior organizational operations and personnel unless necessary, in this case it is both necessary and unavoidable. Factual conclusions have been reached that indicate unhealthy management practices with regard to several areas involving the previous administration, including administration and personnel management. It is abundantly clear that poor communications and poor management practices within the RPD impacted the culture. It is essential to overcome the residual effect of the years of past practice and change the culture.”
Until recently, department employees were monitored inside police headquarters by cameras and microphones.
“It’s my department now so I disconnected all the cameras,” Gerbino said. “I don’t want internal video and audio because I was seeing an apprehension because of the cameras’ presence.”
Gerbino’s report mentions an “us vs. them” relationship between the police department and city government.
“The toxicity that exists regarding the ‘us vs. them’ culture can be neutralized,” the report says. “Already, this is being reversed through strong leadership and positive communication. Ethical behavior is not only practiced by me, but I demand it of my subordinate management staff, as well as the officers and civilian staff.
“The significant level of deniability on the part of the current lieutenant/former interim chief is interfering with day-to-day operations. He refers back to the former chief as being responsible for issues I discuss with him. Everything in this report has been discussed with him and the ‘push back’ is generally that it is someone else’s fault.”
In his report, Gerbino, who was assisted by another accreditor, says the police building does not accommodate the needs of his department. Changes are in progress that will provide relief until more space can be allocated, the report says.
The police building lacks an interview room and witness waiting room. This presents safety concern as well as operation and legal deficiencies, the report says.
The “gravest concern” in the area of facilities is the property/evidence area.
“The property room is overcrowded and outdated,” the report says. “Property and evidence are not stored in a consistently recognizable order, not easily accessible.”
The report also states, “A contemporary technology driven property records management system is non-existent. Records are incomplete, in some cases, non-existent.”
On Feb. 6, Gerbino told the Herald that he is aiming for his department to achieve state accreditation within three years. A pre-accreditation inspection will occur when he believes things are in order.
“I’ve developed a template for change and we are doing well,” he said.