The Town of Purcellville on Monday released a 25-page final “public” report on the months-long investigation into allegations of mismanagement and abuse lodged against Police Chief Cynthia McAlister.
The document, complied by members of the Wilson Elser law firm and retired Police Chief Timothy Longo, portrays the town’s police department as overworked and resistant to change and links the gripes against McAlister as stemming from those staff frustrations.
The report, which can be viewed in full on this newspaper’s website, details work to probe seven complaints that resulted in the chief being placed on leave for nearly a full year and, for a few days, being fired from the post. In all cases, the investigators found that either the complaints were baseless or that McAlister had irked staff members while acting within her authority.
Several of the complaints centered around the hiring of an office business manager who had prior law enforcement experience. While the staff position was intended as a civilian post, McAlister allowed the manager to be sworn as a Purcellville officer, carry an agency-issued firearm, drive department vehicles, and operate with the title of “detective.” While some town officers complained, the investigators concluded that each of those actions were lawful and reasonable in the context of the department’s operation.
Complaints that McAlister overstepped her authority or
incorrectly managed two internal investigations also were unfounded. Even the allegation that the chief had falsified her résumé to claim graduation from the FBI National Academy failed to stand up in the new investigation. She did in fact graduate from the program; she was a member of Session 240, the investigators found.
Allegations that the chief was responsible for low morale, was disrespectful or discourteous to staff members, and attempted to bar officers from lodging complaints with managers in Town Hall were not sustained by investigators. Instead, they concluded McAlister faced a challenge in her efforts to implement improvements within the department after the Fairfax County Police Department commander took the post in 2015.
“… [W]e find that Chief McAlister faced a culture of complacency within the Department upon being hired as the Chief of Police,” the report states. “Multiple witnesses indicated that policy violations were not being reported and/or investigated, that disciplinary actions were inconsistent and ineffective, and that performance expectations were not enforced.”
“According to witnesses, when Chief McAlister started, she asked questions, she challenged their way of thinking, and she was critical of work product that she believed fell below standards—all in an effort to improve officers’ professionalism and performance.”
The report concludes with two areas of recommendations.
First is to more adequately fund and staff the department. That includes the creation of two new management positions—a deputy chief and an operations commander—and expanding the roster by six to eight positions to establish a minimum staffing level of three to four officers at all times. Also, the Town Council should move the police department from its location in a strip retail center along Hirst Road to a more centrally located and functional law enforcement building.
The second series of recommendation is to “break the circle of mediocrity” within the town’s police department with improved staff policies focusing on the code of conduct, a beefed up recruiting and selection processes, and the implementation of a recurring training programs.
“[P]olicing is a humbling and honorable profession that requires a constant and continued renewal to the values and principles to which officers commit as part of their personal and professional obligations,” the report concludes. ” The much-anticipated success of the Town of Purcellville Police Department will largely depend on the willingness of its membership to embrace a renewed promise of trust, communication, teamwork, and unyielding commitment to the community they have individually and collectively sworn to serve. In addition, the success of the Department will depend largely on the recommended changes with respect to the Department’s operational, departmental and physical infrastructure.”