Upland PD Attrition Rate Eclipses Ten Percent Yearly

A recently retired public safety officer residing in Upland has decried what he considers to be Upland city officials’ indolence in the face of an accelerated rate of attrition from the police department that he says is depleting it of seasoned officers and command staff.
“We’ve lost another veteran Upland police officer due to the disarray within police department management,” Steven Bierbaum, who has resided in Upland since 2012, told the Upland City Council at its July 24 meeting. “This time, an officer with 10 years of service has left to go to the Downey Police Department. Two more will be gone in three weeks. One of those officers with 17 years is going to the Ontario Police Department and another with 10 years’ experience is going to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.” Bierbaum had eleven years law enforcement experience in the military and as a civilian with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Pomona Police Department before switching careers to become a firefighter and serving five years with the Pomona Fire Department and then 17 years with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Active in the grassroots group the Upland Coalition of Concerned Citizens, he regularly networks with over two dozen current or retired public safety professionals who live in the City of Upland.
Bierbaum referenced the departure in May of three Upland police officers with a combined 36 years experience in law enforcement, saying, “That’s six officers we have lost in two months.”
In addition, he said, there was another 10-year veteran of the department who left for a position with the Ontario Police Department two years ago.
And, he said, “One year ago we lost one to Apple Valley School Police who was willing to take a 50 percent pay cut.”
Bierbaum said the city was under challenge by a circumstance in which “We have lost eight veteran officers within two years. That represents over 80 years of service to the City of Upland.”
Early this month, Bierbaum said, he learned that four more Upland police officers have declared their intention to leave the city by the end of the summer.
Bierbaum laid the responsibility for the exodus of experienced police officers at the feet of Upland Police Chief Brian Johnson. Johnson was selected as police chief in March 2015, and took on the position the following month. He departed from the Los Angeles Police Department, where after a 26-year career he had risen to the rank of captain and was at that point the commander of that department’s Pacific Division. Johnson has a Master’s Degree in behavioral science from California State University Dominguez Hills and is a graduate of the West Point Leadership Program and the FBI National Academy. He took a pay cut to take the post of chief with the Upland Police Department.
From the outset of his tenure in Upland, Johnson enjoyed good relations with all members of the city council, despite the spirited differences between several of the members of the council that was in place when he was hired. Johnson was also generally well thought of among many of the city’s outspoken residents and other department outsiders who reside or own businesses in Upland. Johnson was lauded for his having prompted stepped-up patrol and enforcement activity shortly after he took the department’s helm. He seemed to effectively blunt criticism of the department being made by homeless advocates who had taken issue with the previous heavy-handed treatment of those living on the streets in Upland, and made a show of compassion toward many of those unsheltered living in Upland, which despite being the county’s tenth largest city population-wise overall among 24 incorporated municipalities, has the dubious distinction of hosting the county’s third largest homeless population. He appeared, at least initially, to deftly navigate the politically treacherous straits between the city’s marijuana availability advocates and an equally vocal and active contingent of city residents vehemently in favor of cannabis prohibition. Ultimately, however, both the marijuana and homeless issues would weary and wound him. With regard to the vituperative battle over cannabis in Upland, accessibility advocates accused him and the department he runs of violating the rights of citizens seeking to maintain availability of the drug to those using it for medical purposes. Those at the other extreme, the marijuana prohibitionists, remarked upon the department’s seeming inability or unwillingness to shutter a medical marijuana dispensary run by Randy Welty, a vice-lord who is the proprietor of the Tropical Lei nude dancing venue at the far west end of town on Foothill Boulevard. While the department and the city had a string of successes in forcing the closure of a number of illicit medical marijuana clinics all over Upland, the marijuana dispensary owned and controlled by Welty next to the Tropical Lei has defied such efforts and its perpetual operation has never been effectively blocked.
Despite the praise Johnson earned from some homeless advocates for his approach with regard to the treatment of the indigent within city limits, a sizable contingent of citizens concerned about the high profile presence of the homeless in city parks, has expressed the belief Johnson has shied away from enforcing important aspects of the law. They say the police department has failed to adequately ensure that municipal codes are enforced at the city’s parks, and that this has resulted in many residents being reluctant to make use of the city’s recreational facilities
Earlier this year, Johnson’s seeming two year honeymoon in Upland came to an end. This was based less on the carping spilling over from the political realm relating to the discontent over the marijuana and homeless issues than challenges emanating from within his own department pertaining to his leadership and command decisions. One complaint is that he has been autocratic and completely unresponsive to employee grievances. Another is that with regard to at least some strategy and tactics, the judgment he has exercised clashes with that of some in the department’s command echelon. Some complained that officers’ safety had been placed at risk as the result of certain department policy changes.
Despite his primacy in the department and the solid support given him by the city council, Johnson stands as something of an outsider in the police department, being the first Upland police chief not to have promoted to the top spot from within the department since Eugene Mueller was persuaded to leave the Pasadena Police Department to become Upland police chief in 1941.
According to Bierbaum, Johnson’s managerial approach has resulted in experienced and talented officers leaving the department.
“Each and every one who left did so mostly due to turmoil and dissatisfaction with the chief of police,” Bierbaum asserted. “The Upland Police Department lowered hiring standards subsequent to his hiring. There have been eight officers that he hired and subsequently fired. An additional four quit because they decided police work wasn’t for them. That is a failure of the management structure within the Upland Police Department.”
The loss of human resources aside, Bierbaum said, Johnson’s management strategy is problematic from a financial perspective.
“It costs about $50,000 to hire an officer,” said Bierbaum. “By one measure, the losses suffered by the city since Chief Johnson was hired equates to about $12 million in lost investments in personnel, salary, benefits, training, overtime and pension costs. Upland is still responsible for the pension costs of those officers leaving or who have left. Chief Johnson has opened the floodgates and the devastation has only begun.”
Bierbaum referenced a major contretemps that occurred within the department in April, what has been described by some as a power struggle, by others as a revolt and by Johnson’s defenders as a legitimate effort to exercise of his authority. The upshot is that the officer who was the department’s second-in-command, another high ranking officer and a veteran line officer have been suspended or otherwise out of commission for four months.
The full genesis of that circumstance is unclear. One report is that a minor insurrection erupted when detective Lon Teague, who has been with the department for 21 years, elected to go out of the established channel of command set up by Johnson in attempting to have concerns by several officers with regard to policy and procedures redressed. Teague, the current Upland Police Officers Association president, approached staff at City Hall, including the city’s human resources director, with those concerns rather than seeking to have the matter discussed within the confines of the department’s senior staff, which Teague felt had little prospect of success. This was because, the Sentinel is told, some of the policies in question originated with Johnson.
Teague was backed in his decision, the Sentinel has confirmed, by sergeant Marc Simpson, who is the president of the Upland Police Management Association.
As a consequence of his action, an investigation targeting Teague was opened, a move which effectively put him into limbo. Simpson, who has been with the department for 23 years, was placed on administrative leave. Thereafter, the second-highest ranking member of the department, captain Anthony Yoakum, sided with Simpson. Yoakum, once considered a potential candidate for police chief, was also put on paid administrative leave.
The ongoing suspensions of Teague, Simpson and Yoakum are an unacceptable strain on a department already severely understaffed and decimated by other officer departures, Bierbaum said. “The dirty little secret is that three officers suspended by Chief Johnson for trying to ‘undermine’ his kingdom are still being ‘investigated,’” Bierbaum said. “Their crime? They did the right thing. They went to the city manager to address the unacceptable direction Chief Johnson has taken our police department. They tried to salvage the Upland Police Department by addressing dozens of their association members’ concerns. How long does an ‘internal’ investigation take? All the while, a sergeant; a detective and a captain are still suspended. Two are the Police Officer Association and Police Management Association presidents. The other is a 29-year veteran and is in charge of operations.”
Bierbaum said, “We have 65 officers on the books, while we are budgeted for 75. We have one of two captains in place, three of four lieutenants and, fortunately, nine of nine sergeants. We have only seven of nine detectives, with two who are injured off at the present time. Among our line officers, we have 44 of 50 at present. This staffing shortage equals 14 percent of what should be our full complement of sworn personnel. Of those numbers, we are missing one motor officer, one recruiter, one narcotics investigator, one community resource officer and two field training officers. When we lose the seven officers in backgrounds, and those are the ones we know of, we will be operating at 23 percent below allotted staffing. Meanwhile, Bierbaum said, the police department is crippled by the lack of personnel, even as important matters that need law enforcement action are being neglected.
“Ordinance 1919 relating to massage parlors was rewritten and reapproved on January 23, 2017,” he said. “What has changed? How many existing illegal parlors have been inspected; licenses suspended or revoked?”
Bierbaum continued, “Ordinance 1910, which prohibits marijuana clinics from setting up in Upland, was vindicated and reestablished by the voters’ approval of Measure E in June. We’re still waiting. The operations in ‘New China’ and ‘Captain Jacks’ are thriving, stronger than ever.”
The malaise that grips the police department has worked its way up the political ladder, Bierbaum said.
“How are we to tackle the issue of transients, drug sales and a multitude of illegal sex shops without police officers, let alone the lack of support at the senior level of city staff?” he asked.
City Manager Martin Thouvenell, who was Upland police chief for 17 years, strongly backs Johnson.
City councilman Gino Filippi, the chairman of the city council’s police and fire subcommittee, has said that Johnson “is an excellent police chief who is doing an outstanding job. Everyone knows that.”    -Mark Gutglueck

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