Mayor, City Council comment on allegations of insensitivity at the PPD

The Pelham City Council and Mayor Gary Waters addressed allegations of insensitivity at the Pelham Police Department during a Jan. 5 Council meeting. (File)

The Pelham City Council and Mayor Gary Waters addressed allegations of insensitivity at the Pelham Police Department during a Jan. 5 Council meeting. (File)

By MOLLY DAVIDSON / Staff Writer

PELHAM—The Pelham City Council and Mayor Gary Waters addressed recent allegations of insensitivity at the Pelham Police Department during a Jan. 5 City Council meeting. The allegations were brought to light by an audio recording released on Dec. 30, 2014.

The one-minute, 51-second audio file allegedly contains a recording from an August 2014 roll call session of Pelham Police officers involved in a derogatory conversation regarding individuals with special needs at the Linda Nolen Learning Center.

“Although all of the voices and words cannot be heard clearly on the recording, there is enough clear audio and commentary to cause me to believe there were several insensitive and insulting comments made regarding the special needs students to attended the Linda Nolen Learning Center,” Waters said in a prepared statement at Council meeting. “This conduct and these remarks are unacceptable. They do not fairly represent what the city of Pelham is and what we stand for.”

Waters prefaced his remarks by stating they were his “opinion alone” and not reflective of “the opinion of the City Council.”

Waters said the comments in the audio recording “represent a failure with in the Pelham Police Department and warrant an evaluation of the leadership within the organization.”

The Pelham Police Department and the city’s Human Resources Department are conducting an extensive investigation into the recording and the allegations of insensitivity, which will include interviews of everyone present at the time of the recording, Waters confirmed. The officers engaged in the recorded conversation “have been identified,” Waters said.

“We have to make sure we have multiple people involved,” Pelham City Council President Rick Hayes said of the multi-department investigation, noting the City Council cannot be actively involved in the investigation, but will receive a report of the findings at the conclusion.

Hayes said the City Council was “blindsided” by the incident, and was told the Human Resources Department was unaware of the recording until it was released on Dec. 30, 2014.

Although Hayes said he does not condone, excuse or defend remarks mocking individuals with disabilities, he cautioned against forming any judgment until a thorough investigation is completed.

Any wrongdoing will “be handled appropriately,” Hayes said in a post-meeting interview, adding he believes the comments on the recording were part of a larger conversation and were directed at an officer in the room.

“Our officers have many strong ties with the special needs community,” Hayes wrote in an email, adding the investigation into the allegations has to encompass “all the details and not just one perspective from a recording.”