PPD launches internal investigation amid allegations of insensitivity

The Pelham Police Department is launching an internal investigation after allegations of insensitivity, according to a Dec. 31 news release from the department. (File)

The Pelham Police Department is launching an internal investigation after allegations of insensitivity, according to a Dec. 31 news release from the department. (File)

By MOLLY DAVIDSON / Staff Writer

PELHAM—The Pelham Police Department has launched an internal investigation following “allegations of insensitivity by police officers during an August roll call session” revealed by an audio recording that was recently made public, a Dec. 31 news release from the PPD confirmed.

The audio file allegedly contains a recording of several Pelham police officers involved in a derogatory conversation regarding individuals with special needs at the Linda Nolen Learning Center in Pelham.

“I am disappointed with the audio tape of the conversation, but even though I am disappointed, I’m not surprised,” Pelham Mayor Gary Waters said in a Dec. 31 phone interview.

Waters said the recorded conversation is indicative of a larger “negative culture” among some at the PPD.

“This is just a symptom of a larger problem,” Waters said. “This is a leadership failure.”

The allegations of insensitivity also prompted the resignation of a former officer, Dustin Chandler.

Chandler, a strong supporter of the special needs community and father of a young daughter with special needs, announced his resignation from the PPD earlier this week, citing issues of insensitivity.

“It’s a serious issue with me for obvious reasons. We need to come together at all levels and embrace the special needs community and not make them the butt of jokes,” Chandler said in a Dec. 31 phone interview. “Sometimes taking a stand is tough. It was a tough decision to leave a paycheck. It wasn’t a tough decision to take a stand for the defenseless.”

Chandler said he did not make or disseminate the audio recording, however he said he was made aware of it in August and made a complaint to the city’s Human Resources Department on “August 17 or 18.”

According to the news release from the PPD, the department had not “received a complaint of insensitivity by anyone concerning this incident or any incident of this nature” prior to the Dec. 30 release of the audio recording.

“As part of the investigation, we will look at the context of the conversation and make a determination as to the proper course of action concerning any statement(s) that are deemed as insensitive or inappropriate,” the release read.

Waters said he plans to conduct his own investigation into the incident and “make a decision on what needs to take place.”

Although opposed to remarks made in the recording, Waters said the statements in the audio file do not reflect the opinions of the PPD as a whole.

“Do not judge the police force by the actions of a few,” Waters said. “We can’t paint them all with the same broad brush.”

Pelham police officers have participated in numerous charitable events in the past, including a strong presence in organizations such as the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics.

“For many years our personnel have built and maintained a strong relationship with many foundations and learning institutions specifically dedicated to special needs individuals, pediatric care and assist to promote community engagement with organizations to include, but not limited to, The Linda Nolen Learning Center, Special Olympics of Alabama, Wings of Hope Pediatric Foundation, ‘Gone Fishing, Not Just Wishing,’ and Children’s Hospital of Alabama (Toy Drive),” the Dec. 31 release read.

Chandler said he hopes the release of the audio recording will open a dialogue and pave the way for positive change.

“I’m not calling for anyone’s jobs or anything,” Chandler said. “This is a thing we can learn from and move forward on in a positive manner.”