Report reveals flaws, strengths of NMB Dept. of Public Safety

North Myrtle Beach, SC - NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - North Myrtle Beach City Manager John Smithson says the findings of a recent survey conducted among employees with the city's Department of Public Safety have raised cause for concern.

Officials asked the University of South Carolina's Institute for Public Service and Policy Research to conduct a survey among employees to pinpoint areas of improper conduct within the department. The survey followed allegations of mismanagement and improper conduct made by a former NMBDPS employee.

Surveyors found the majority of employees described North Myrtle Beach's work environment as one of "mistrust and confusion," citing low morale among both firefighters and police officers. The report advised employees are fearful for their jobs and believe others could be taping conversations to use as evidence, should a department conflict arise.

"When asked to comment on the working atmosphere or culture, many employees describe the immediate past command staff as having a management style of fear and intimidation," the report stated. "A vast majority [who participated in the survey] stated employees did not respect the command staff."

Institute for Public Service and Policy Research workers stressed that despite the supportive opinions towards many supervisors, a sense of favoritism has been exercised in some personnel matters.

While public safety officers believe favoritism has been prevalent in their branch of the department for a number of years, firefighters claimed they're the ones who are going without recognition.

"Low morale is most prevalent among firefighters," researchers stated in their findings. "There is a strong feeling that law enforcement receives a higher priority and that the fire service's contributions to the city are not recognized."

The perception of low department morale led firefighters to admit they don't believe fire training provided to public safety officers "is sufficient and may endanger the safety of personnel." The perceived lack of training, according to researchers, led the the acknowledgement that it could impact behavior during an emergency situation.

"Fire service personnel serving as incident commanders may not have confidence in the ability or experience of the public safety officers responding to a fire and may limit their involvement in the fire response," the survey found.

Researchers claim firefighters also cited inconsistent management, different application of policies and procedures, in addition to prioritization, as department complaints.

"I am concerned about some of the comments and perceptions that have been conveyed to city management," Smithson said upon the release of the report. "It will be imperative to work with employees at all levels of the organization and ensure that their concerns will be addressed."

Other highlights from the report include:

Many of the female police interviewees and survey respondents, in addition to several male employees, do believe that some employment decisions are based on gender.

Firefighters are aware of any over-discrimination based on race within their branch of the department.

Employees who describe the working environment at the NMBDPS as "uncomfortable" cite taped conversations, recent newspaper articles and employee terminations as the reasons behind their feelings.

Certain members of the police command staff are purported to have made offensive comments about an employees' race and gender, used language that was considered crude and vulgar, and made disparaging remarks about crime victims.

A number of employees felt it isn't wise to raise discrimination issues because of retaliation from command staff.

Employees hope North Myrtle Beach will hire a new public safety director who will "treat employees with respect and listen to their opinions."

"It is my goal in the short term to do whatever I can to change the perceptions expressed and deal with situations within the department to the best of our ability," Smithson said.

Three Institute for Public Service and Policy Research workers interviewed 81 of the 150 employees currently working for the North Myrtle Beach Department of Public Safety. The 24 female employees and 57 male employees were surveyed through interviews or online surveys.

Topics addressed by the survey included personal opinions of the department, communication opportunities, policies and procedures, the confidentiality of personnel matters, discipline and performance.

Officials in North Myrtle Beach requested the assistance of the independent organization following the demotion of former North Myrtle Beach Public Safety Director William Bailey and the termination of two other officers.

Bailey came under fire by North Myrtle Beach officials after he reported a back-up handgun was stolen out of the glove compartment of his personal truck in December 2009. Bailey told investigators the firearm was locked in the truck's glove compartment, but an investigation revealed the compartment in which it was stored did not have a lock.

The former public safety director was demoted to lieutenant before city officials announced he was no longer employed with North Myrtle Beach on April 30.

North Myrtle Beach Interim Public Safety Director Maj. Walt Floyd and a second police officer were also terminated from their positions with the city after recordings caught them making inappropriate comments about crime victims and co-workers.

The termination of the duo came after The Sun News featured the contents of the recordings in a published article. The newspapers reported the recordings caught Floyd making "Crude sexual remarks about female crime victims and co-workers."

Floyd has been with the department for more than 30 years.

Lt. Don Repec was also fired after his voice was identified making remarks in the tapes, according to The Sun News.

Lt. Randy Fisher resigned on Dec. 1. Fischer said he was forced to resign after Assistant City Manager Steve Thomas accused him of leaking confidential information about the Horry County wildfire to Mike Ragusa, a homeowner who has been critical of the city's response to the fires.

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