Fresno Council Wants Answers on Missing Items 

Fresno Council Wants Answers on Missing Items 
Posted by FoM on April 13, 2000 at 21:04:04 PT
By Kimi Yoshino, The Fresno Bee
Source: Fresno Bee
Police chief will be asked to appear at the next session to address missing evidence and other issues. Sparked by reports of missing drugs and money, several Fresno City Council members said Wednesday they expect Police Chief Ed Winchester to appear at their next meeting to address growing concerns about the department. 
Their concerns come on the heels of a new admission that 11 pounds of cocaine -- or 5 kilograms -- cannot be found in department property rooms. Add more than $172,000 in missing cash, a missing AR-15 assault rifle, the theft of explosives from the bomb-squad bunker, inaccurate inventory in that bunker and a sexual-harassment lawsuit, and council members say they want some explanations. All those incidents have been made public in the past several months. "The situation is clearly going from bad to worse," Council Member Garry Bredefeld said. "Somebody is clearly asleep at the wheel, and that person should be held accountable. There needs to be outside investigation and obviously outside oversight." Council President Tom Boyajian echoed some of those concerns: "It's not just this incident. The bunker, the lawsuits. It never stops. There has to be an accountability at some point here. It's a big concern." Despite questions from several of the council members, at least two -- Ken Steitz and Chris Mathys -- expressed support for Winchester. Mayor Jim Patterson and City Manager Jeff Reid also commended Winchester for bringing the problems to the public and outlining aggressive steps to resolve poor record-keeping practices. On Tuesday, Winchester and Assistant Chief Jerry Dyer answered numerous questions regarding the missing cocaine and money. They said they expected more items to turn up missing because of a property-room problem that has built up over the years. Fresno County District Attorney Ed Hunt said he is not aware of any cases being tainted by the missing evidence. He said it is too soon to speculate whether that could happen at all. Winchester also said he will ask an outside agency this week to begin criminal investigations into the missing evidence. "Since we became aware that we've had a real problem, we've put a lot of dollars and resources into this," Winchester said Tuesday. "And that was before I became aware we were missing stuff." Winchester declined to comment Wednesday. Police spokesman Lt. John Fries said Winchester outlined the problems to the City Council in a three-page memo. Council members say they intend to question Winchester. They made plans Wednesday for a special meeting next week, but it was canceled, Boyajian said, because he did not want to engage in a "spitting contest." Instead, Boyajian said he hopes Winchester will answer questions posed to him in writing when the council meets again April 25. Council members may tangle with Winchester and Patterson over a proposal to add three property technicians to help clean up the record-keeping mess. The mayor will unveil his proposed city budget May 1. "I think rather than being Monday-morning quarterbacks, we ought to encourage our best people to do their best work and provide them with the tools to get it done," Patterson said. "We need to give a department that's proven itself in the street an opportunity to prove itself in the office." Although Steitz and Mathys agree the department needs more support staff, Council Member Henry Perea says that solution is irresponsible and the city needs an outside agency to audit the Police Department. Winchester has said he plans to ask the Department of Justice or another agency to conduct a criminal investigation. Perea hopes to go a step further. "If you can have that kind of breach in a division like that, what's happening in the rest of the department?" Perea said. "If we had the situation where these department heads and this city manager reported to the council and we had hiring and firing ability, I can tell you now, heads would be rolling. This is unacceptable." Council members have lauded Winchester for drastically reduced crime rates, including significant decreases in homicides, auto theft and other serious felonies. But the department has been under fire for several recent incidents: In late December, burglars broke into the department's bomb-squad bunker and stole hundreds of pounds of explosives. It wasn't until the items were recovered that police realized they had dramatically underreported what was stolen because of poor inventory. In January, they acknowledged that the poor inventory extended to the property rooms and said they were searching for more than $200,000. On Tuesday, Winchester said $172,807 remains missing. In January, Winchester said an AR-15 was missing from the Violent Crimes Suppression Unit's cache. It was reported missing last year. In February, a sexual-harassment case filed by a former officer began. A jury was unable to reach a verdict, and the case is scheduled to go to trial again in October. Published: April 13, 2000Copyright 2000, The Fresno Bee CannabisNews Articles On Corruption:
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