Vote of confidence for police chief boosts morale of Vero force


Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey said the morale of his officers improved noticeably in the days after the City Council unanimously gave him and his 83-member department an emphatic vote of confidence last week.

Also helpful, the embattled chief said, was the council’s full endorsement of City Manager Monte Falls’ request to halt any further investigation of the complaints two local businessmen made against Currey’s administration.

That the council’s actions were taken during a special-call meeting two Mondays ago – in a chamber packed with Currey’s supporters, more than 30 of them police officers – was another factor that contributed to a rebound in the department’s esprit de corps, the chief said.

“Almost automatically, everyone felt better,” Currey said. “We talk about our community support all the time, and we’re both humbled by it and proud to have earned it. But to see it displayed in such an overwhelming way …

“It absolutely galvanized us.”

Falls went a step further, saying last week: “What we saw and heard in that room showed our officers that the council, the community and even the State Attorney’s Office support the work they do. It also showed there is a great deal of unity in the department and that these complaints are not a widespread thing.

“As far as I’m concerned, the council’s actions send a clear message that this matter is closed and we need to put it behind us.”

But, Falls added, Currey and his command staff still need to address the damage done by the harsh-but-unsubstantiated allegations put forth eight months ago by Gorilla Ammunition co-founder Lanse Padgett and George E. Warren Corporation president Tom Corr, as well as from the relentless outside scrutiny that followed.

In an April 16 memo to Falls, the city’s human resources director, Gabrielle Manus, reported the findings of her recent investigation into an officer’s complaint alleging a hostile work environment in the police department.

Though Manus wrote that she found no evidence to substantiate the claim, her report stated: “It was expressed to me, over and over, that the constant requests for public records and outside interference is severely impacting the morale of the officers.

“They feel they are always looking over their shoulders and are afraid to do their jobs,” she added. “They fear that, if they make even a minor mistake, they will be the subject of the next public-records request.

“The officers are very nervous and hesitant to act as a result of the intense scrutiny from outside individuals,” Manus continued. “Many officers expressed concern that the longer the constant attacks on the administration continue, the worse morale will become.”

Padgett called the investigation a “joke,” saying Manus didn’t include in her report any of the complaints that were critical of the department’s leadership. He also referred to an in-house survey, conducted by two rank-and-file officers while off duty and using their own computers, during the summer of 2022.

The survey, which Currey said was done with his permission, was designed to gauge the job satisfaction of officers under the rank of corporal – and the results were troubling.

Currey, however, said he responded to the survey by implementing changes to improve the officers’ working conditions and morale.

Those changes included more comfortable uniforms, allowing beards and tattoos, establishing more regular interaction between top administrators and rank-and-file officers, the creation of a Chief’s Chatter newsletter, and acquiring better equipment and technology.

“Can we still improve? You can always improve,” Currey said. “But until this latest thing, we were in a good place. We’re at full employment, which we weren’t when the survey was done, and we made some improvements in the communication between employees and the administration.

“Morale was pretty darn good,” he added. “But, yes, this thing, with all the external disruptions, was starting to take a toll.”

Falls said it was Manus’ memo that prompted him to request the special-call meeting.

After the council rallied behind him and Currey – the city manager is the police chief’s immediate and only supervisor – Falls said they spoke last week about finding new and better ways to improve the administration’s efforts to engage with rank-and-file officers.

“My message to the chief was: Let’s engage our officers the best we can, and he agreed it was a good idea,” Falls said. “I want to make sure the officers have the opportunity to share ideas with the administration, including the chief. If some of them are reluctant, we need to find a venue for them to do this.

“We’ve got a bunch of young people in the department, and they don’t necessarily communicate the way we do,” he added. “They’re more about texting than talking, so it might be harder for them to express some things. If that’s a problem, we’ve got to find a way to address it.

“We responded to the survey. We need to respond to this.”

Falls said he couldn’t quantify how much damage was done to the police department’s morale as a result of the recent complaints against the chief, but he trusts Manus’ report.

He also questioned Padgett’s claim that 20 officers had shared their concerns about the department’s leadership.

“You’re telling me our HR director interviewed 25 percent of our police officers in conducting her investigation, and she didn’t get any of the 20?” Falls said. “How did we miss them?”

Padgett said after the special-call meeting that he planned to talk again to the 20 officers and discuss whether to take further action, despite the council’s actions and an apparent lack of community support.

It was Padgett and Corr who launched this effort to oust Currey in early September, when they attempted to convince Falls that the city needed a new police chief.

They presented several examples of conduct they say prove Currey was unfit to lead the department, including claims that the administration closes cases that demand further investigation, deflects and dodges any questioning of its performance and practices, and has created an intolerant work environment in which employees are afraid to speak openly about agency matters.

But their quest appears to have failed.

Among those who joined the parade to the podium at the special-call meeting was Assistant State Attorney Bill Long, who runs the agency’s Indian River County office and heaped praise on Currey and his department.

“I’ve been doing this 15 years, and I can tell you this: I’ve worked with upwards of 20 different law enforcement agencies – probably well more than that – and there is not an agency I would rather work with than the Vero Beach Police Department,” Long told the council.

“And I will tell you why: It comes from a top-down leadership approach that’s attributable to one person in this room, and that is Chief Currey,” he added. “His leadership has led to an educated, smart, tough, ferocious group of individuals who are willing to protect this community.

“I am happy to work with them, day in and day out, and I stand her in full support of the chief.”

Currey said his officers simply want to come to work and focus on their jobs without being distracted by outside interference or unnecessary scrutiny.

“Most of our employees didn’t even know about this stuff early on, but it kept building and, eventually, it began having an effect,” Currey said, adding that he’s still receiving calls and text messages expressing support. “But we haven’t let anyone knock us off our stride. We kept doing the job.

“Now, we’re moving on.”

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