UW Police Department leaders ask regents to put chief on leave

Sep 14, 2018, 6:58 AM

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He said many claims in the letter are outdated.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.

By Alison Grande, KIRO 7

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UW Police Department leaders ask regents to put chief on leave