Hessmer police chief objects to time clocks, GPS

Motion hearing postponed for parties to resolve differences

Mayor Travis Franks and Police Chief Kenneth Smith have butted heads a few times during their terms in office, but both men have always been able to shake hands at the end of the tiff and resume a good working relationship -- until the next head-butting occasion.

The most recent disagreement will apparently end the same way.

Smith filed suit against the Village of Hessmer and the mayor on Aug. 29, seeking an injunction against a village-wide requirement to use time clocks.

Smith has objected to requiring police officers to use a time clock, although they have been complying with the ordinance for the past several months.

The police chief also objects to the prospect of GPS devices being installed in police vehicles.

The Village Council amended the budget to include funds to install GPS in all municipal vehicles, but has not directed that the devices be installed, Village Attorney Brandon Scott said.

A hearing scheduled for last Friday (Sept. 7) in 12th Judicial District Court was postponed to give both sides time to reach an amicable solution to the issue, Scott noted.

In the motion for an injunction, attorney Mark Jeansonne -- representing Smith -- said a time clock has been installed “in an insecure location, not readily accessible by the police chief, always allegedly ‘broken’ in some type of attempt to verify handwritten time cards, and otherwise intrusive on the inherent powers of the elected chief of police.”

The motion cites an Attorney General’s Opinion from 2012 that “a policy or ordinance requiring police officers to clock-in and clock-out on a time clock utilized by personnel not under the chief of police’s supervisory control interferes with an elected chief of police’s inherent authority to supervise and direct the administration of day-to-day operations of the police department.”

In his motion, Jeansonne said the AG’s Opinion “specifically prohibited the mayor of Hessmer from placing a time clock in his office, thus he ordered one placed in a hallway viewable by personnel not employed by the chief.”

Jeansonne contends placing the time clock to be used by police officers in the Town Hall’s hallway goes against the AG’s Opinion and “places police officers’ safety at immediate and irreparable risk.”

On the GPS issue, Jeansonne cited another Attorney General’s Opinion which states GPS devices may not be placed in police units.

He said he and his client disagree with Franks’ position that the Attorney General supported the installation of GPS devices in police cars as long as reports and logs are not in real time.

Jeansonne said the opinion noted that a “tracking device would be allowed in an elected chief of police’s vehicle only if it would not interfere with his/her inherent authority.”

The opinion further stated that records “created that reveal the previous locations of police officers or show the tendencies of police officers during routine patrols or investigations could compromise the information which is designed to be protected from disclosure.”

The AG said such disclosure could compromise an ongoing investigation. Dissemination of those reports also diminishes the authority of the elected police chief to control access to such information.”

The opinion concluded that “the proposed ordinance requiring a police chief to create records, which would tend to reveal info protected from disclosure, interferes with the inherent power and authority of the police chief to supervise and direct his office, equipment and personnel on a day-to-day basis.”

In his response to Jeansonne’s motion, Scott notes that the time clock is nine feet away from the police chief’s office and six feet from the Police Department door, so it is “readily accessible” to Smith. Scott said the use of a time clock is a “common sense effort to ensure governmental efficiency” and “in no way impinges upon the rights of the chief of police.”

Concerning the possible installation of GPS devices in municipal vehicles, including patrol cars, Scott noted the police units are owned by the village and not by the Police Department.

He said the Attorney General’s Office has issued past opinions that a municipal council has the “legislative power” to adopt ordinances “directed not at police personnel, but at the use of village property, the police vehicles.”

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