UW to hire independent investigator to review UW Police after complaint from sergeants

UPDATE: The University of Washington will hire an independent investigator to conduct a comprehensive review of the UW police department operation, structure, and culture.

Several police  sergeants and a lieutenant asked the UW Regents for an independent review earlier this month. They also asked for Police Chief John Vinson to be placed on administrative leave during the investigation.

The letter from Denzil Suite, Vice President of Student Life, did not address placing Chief Vinson on leave.

"I write on behalf of President Cauce, Provost Richards, and all of us in leadership at the University of Washington to acknowledge your letter dated September 13, 2018 in which you shared concerns about the leadership of Chief John Vinson.  We realize that writing such a letter is a significant step for you to take. Issues of community safety, departmental efficiencies, legal and ethical decision-making, and employee morale are of great importance to all of us at the University of Washington. 
"The University of Washington Police Department enjoys a positive reputation across campus and we are proud of the work that you, your fellow officers, and administrative staff do to keep the campus safe.  Like you, we share the desire of continuous improvement with the goal of having the best campus law enforcement agency in the nation. 
"To that end, I will institute a comprehensive review of the UWPD operation, structure, and culture by an independent external agent or agency.  The opportunities and goals here are to determine what works well, what immediate opportunities exist for improvement, and how we set ourselves on a path for long term success. In the coming days, I will be in touch with more information on how this will proceed and the timeline for this review.   
"Again, thank you for raising your concerns and for your willingness to make the UWPD an even better campus law enforcement agency

-Denzil Suite, Vice President for Student Life

Previous Coverage:

Police sergeants at the University of Washington asked the board of regents to place Chief John Vinson, of the UW Police Department, on administrative leave.

They gave the board a letter that expresses their concern and asks the board to hire an independent investigator to conduct an investigation into the fitness of Vinson to continue leading the UW Police Department.

Seven sergeants and one lieutenant signed the letter and presented it to the board of regents.

"We're here to submit a letter of concern regarding our lack of confidence in Chief John Vinson's continued leadership of the UW Police Department," Sgt. Anthony Stewart said at the meeting.

The sergeants told KIRO 7 they felt they needed to draw attention to problems in the Police Department and feared retaliation, so they did it as a group.

"This was, unfortunately, the only option that we had left to safeguard our community," said Sgt. Kevin Jackson.

Lt. Doug Schulz also signed the letter. "For the last four or five years, I've tried to voice my concerns internally, inside the department, and they were never addressed," he said.

Schulz said he even contacted the attorney general's office for advice and was still ignored by Vinson.

According to the letter, the problems include lack of training, a large turnover of officers, questionable hires and a hostile and retaliatory work environment.

"I felt ridiculed in front of my peers, which, to me, is not how you treat anyone," said Sgt. Wendy Matsuyama.

The group said the Police Department lacks the equipment necessary to keep its staff, as well as students and faculty, safe in an active shooter situation.

It said the department doesn't have active shooter body armor that would stop rifle fire.

KIRO 7 asked Vinson for comment.

"My reaction, I was surprised," said Chief Vinson. " I was quite surprised they had raised some of these issues, and then, as I read through the letter some of the issues I felt were not being accurately portrayed."

He said many claims in the letter are outdated.

Vinson said he's increased the accountability of patrol sergeants, and he thinks that's what triggered their complaints today. He said the timing coincides with contract negotiations.

"As the leader of the department, it also allows me to reflect on how or why our team members feel they have to go outside to address a perceived and real problem. That gives me pause, as well, to say, 'What can we do better?'" said Vinson.

The chief said the department needs active shooter tactical body armor and is in the process of ordering it.

He hopes to have it by the end of the year.

A UW spokesperson sent the following statement Thursday afternoon:

"The University was made aware of this letter submitted and signed by members of the Washington Federation of State Employees Local 1488, representing sergeants and lieutenants at UWPD minutes before it was presented at Thursday's meeting of the Board of Regents. The UW takes all allegations very seriously. While this letter does not represent all sergeants and lieutenants within UWPD, we will nonetheless review the information included in this document and respond appropriately. The UW appreciates the important role that all members of UWPD play in keeping our campus secure, and the safety of our community remains our paramount concern."

In the letter, the sergeants asked the board of regents to take action by Oct. 1.

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