Barstow Police Chief Dianne Burns returned to her post on February 27, seven months after she took an extended leave.
City officials who had previously not specified the reason for Burns’ absence and had said only that it involved a private matter, this week disclosed that she was on paid administrative leave while a review of issues with regard to her performance was ongoing.
She departed for vacation on July 9 but had not returned as anticipated by July 25, leading to widespread speculation in the community that she had quit or had been fired. When Adams had not returned to oversee the department by August 4, 2011, city manager Curt Mitchell placed her on paid administrative leave. Lieutenant Albert Ramirez was installed as the acting police chief in Burns’ absence.
While mystery had attended her hiatus, it appears that an insurrection of the department’s officers may have been at the basis of her unannounced departure last summer.
Even before she returned to the helm of the department on Monday, members of the two union groups which speak for the police department’s sworn employees, the Barstow Police Officers Association, representing 30 officers, corporals and detectives, and the Barstow Police Management Association, representing six sergeants and lieutenants, provided a vote of “no confidence” in Burns’ ability to continue to lead the department.
The unions sent Mitchell a letter referencing a review of Burns’ performance which had been performed by the city during Burn’s extended absence. The letter memorialized that the vote of reproval had been taken and requesting that Burns’s leave of absence be extended until Mitchell and his management team have an opportunity to look into Burns’ “poor performance” and “favoritism,” as well as a “hostile work environment” that the unions say is the product of her oversight of the department. The letter upbraided Mitchell for “failing to adequately address all concerns” the department’s officers had expressed about Burns, the only female police chief in San Bernardino County.
The unions simultaneously released a press release stating, “A majority of both police units are concerned with the past performance of chief Burns and the detriment her return may have on the department and the community.”
City manager Curt Mitchell told the Sentinel, “She was originally put on paid administrative leave in August while we completed a thorough review of her personnel matter and determined she would return to full duties. We came to that decision on Monday [February 20]. We announced that she would return on Thursday [February 23] and on Friday [February 24] the two police unions submitted a vote of no confidence.”
Mitchell said that Burns would remain as chief.
“In taking the votes, the bargaining units are saying they are concerned about her ability to lead the department,” Mitchell said. “When they expressed those concerns, I told them I would be working with the police chief to address the concerns they expressed.” Mitchell said that the vote was an expression of opinion by the department’s officers but that it had no binding impact on the department, the city or him.
Adams’ contract expires at the end of June. Mitchell said the vote of no confidence would “not by itself” impact the decision on whether to renew her contract or bring in a new police chief. “In making any recommendation to the city council I am going to consider all aspects with regard to whether her contract should be renewed,” he said. “We will be discussing that with Dianne over the next few months. We’re looking forward to the future. I’m confident Chief Burns will work with me and the outstanding staff of our police department to provide the best in law enforcement services for the community.”
The Sentinel’s efforts to reach Burns for comment were unsuccessful.