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Detroit Has New Police Chief After Sex Scandal

Oct. 09--Candidates for Detroit's next police chief will be asked a touchy question during the selection process: Have you ever had an intimate relationship with a subordinate?

The questioning is designed to avoid a sex scandal like the one that forced Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. to immediately retire Monday, a week after Officer Angelica Robinson alleged she had a months-long relationship with the chief. It was the second time Godbee was accused of having an affair with a subordinate during his two years as chief.

His predecessor, Warren Evans, was forced to resign, in part, because of his relationship with the same lieutenant Godbee had been involved with before being appointed.

The Rev. Jerome Warfield, chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners -- which will narrow down the field of applicants to produce a pool of candidates for Mayor Dave Bing to choose from -- said candidates will be thoroughly vetted.

"I think, through the interview process, that the board is going to direct ... that we can vet out some of the issues that have recently plagued the department as it relates to fraternization within the department from a superior to a subordinate level," he said.

Under the city charter approved by voters last year, the board is charged with using a search firm to conduct the search for a new chief. Bing will then appoint a chief from the board's list, although his pick is subject to City Council approval.

Warfield said the board hopes to identify a search firm by the end of the week. Assistant Chief Chester Logan has been named interim chief.

Employment law attorney C.R. Wright, who handles workplace issues and hiring policies, said Detroit officials aren't out of line in asking police chief candidates whether they have had personal relationships within the workplace.

"It's certainly legal. The hiring authority wants to know what they're getting into," said Wright, a former police officer.

Warfield also said the board hopes to approve a policy by year's end concerning relationships between superiors and subordinates. Likewise, Bing said he plans to meet with the Law and Human Resources departments about implementing a citywide policy that addresses the issue.

Warfield said the board wants "to restore the confidence in the department that there is a governmental entity that is working and wanting to get it right."

Proceeding with caution

Wright, who works for the Atlanta-based employment law firm Fisher and Phillips -- which specializes in representing employers -- said it appears Detroit plans to take extra caution with the next chief.

"Obviously, they feel that they've been burned in that situation," Wright said.

Wright said hiring authorities can ask candidates whether they have been accused of harassment or involved with a subordinate in a past or current job.

He said employers have the right to know "if there are any personal relationships that might interfere with their ability to be effective in the position, then they are certainly able to consider that criteria."

Wright said employers can't ask job candidates questions about their gender, pregnancy, age, ethnicity and race -- all categories covered by federal discrimination laws. A person's involvement with someone at work, he said, is not a protected activity under federal discrimination laws.

Warfield said all candidates would be asked questions about interdepartmental relationships, but noted they wouldn't necessarily be disqualified if they had had relationships, "which is why appropriate follow-up questions would be in order."

'I worry about him'

Bing suspended Godbee for 30 days last week when the allegations involving Robinson, an internal affairs officer, surfaced.

When asked Monday whether Godbee admitted to the relationship, Bing said: "He did tell me that he had a relationship with Ms. Robinson, yes."

Bing said Godbee was embarrassed. Godbee could not be reached for comment Monday.

"He felt he had let me down," Bing said during a brief news conference. "He felt he had let the department down. He felt he had let the citizens of Detroit down."

Last week, Robinson's gun was taken away after she became distraught and posted a photo of herself with a gun in her mouth on a social networking site. She was evaluated by a doctor and was cleared to return to work with her gun, a department spokeswoman said Friday.

It appears Robinson may have violated the department's social networking policy by posting the photo. The policy stresses officers use good judgment online and "conduct themselves at all times as representatives of the department and, accordingly, shall adhere to all departmental standards of conduct and observe conventionally accepted protocols."

Robinson's attorney, David Robinson, did not return calls seeking comment Monday. Last week, he said his client became depressed and there was concern she would take her own life.

Logan said the department will investigate resources that may have been used by Godbee to find Angelica Robinson after she posted the photograph.

Warfield said the board is investigating "the entire situation," including all of those involved.

"We will investigate all of it, and we will hand our investigative findings over to the mayor's office," he said.

Bing said Godbee made the right decision to retire.

"It bothers, hurts me a great deal that it has come to this," he said. "I worry about him as a person and hope that he'll be able to get on with his life no longer as part of the Detroit Police Department, but as a citizen of Detroit."

Hoping for a fresh start

City Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown, a former deputy police chief, called Godbee's departure "an opportunity to try a different approach" and hire a chief who is willing to battle to get more officers on the street.

"I don't know that it's all his fault," Brown said. "He certainly had union contracts that were roadblocks. But once we signed the consent agreement, he then had the ability to go into those contracts, and we haven't moved fast enough with regard to officers on the street.

"I think there was just a little too much complaining about the community not being involved, complaining about there not being enough money, and not holding the police department accountable for reducing crime."

Though Brown has clashed with Godbee about the department's inability to get officers out of desk jobs and back onto patrol, Brown said he has "no glee about the way Godbee left."

Brown said he wants the city to search for candidates nationwide and within the department who "should compete for the job against the best people in the country who are willing to move into Detroit."

Councilmember Ken Cockrel Jr., who served as mayor after Kwame Kilpatrick left office, said he also supports hiring from outside the department.

"Given the place we're at right now, there might be a value to bringing someone in who doesn't have any longtime relationships and none of the baggage that comes along with it, who could basically take a look at our department and the issues we're facing with fresh eyes," Cockrel said.

In his retirement letter, Godbee reflected on his career with the department, which began in 1987. He said he is retiring "proud of the fact that I was able to assist during a time in which our city has been most in need," and he thanked Bing and officers.

"As many of you know, retirement is only another way to say transition," he wrote. "I always will be engaged in our community, our school system, our community colleges and our churches. My mission is to continue to work hard to make this city the best it can be."

Experience: 38-year career with the Detroit Police Department. Named interim police chief last week; 2010-present, assistant chief; 2006-08, deputy chief of the Northeastern District; 1992-2002, commander in the 7th Precinct

Military: Paratrooper with the Army's 82nd Airborne; served in Vietnam in 1968

Personal: Born in Detroit; married to Ellen Logan; four adult children

Copyright 2012 - Detroit Free Press

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