UPDATE, 5:25 p.m.:
Jeff Solomon, president of the Statewide University Police Association, told the Outpost via phone this afternoon that the vote of “no confidence” has no direct legal or organizational impact. In other words, it won’t force Peterson out of his current position.
Such votes are “purely symbolic,” he said, “a last resort, meaning that the [SUPA] members locally have tried other options and just felt like there was no change, and that conditions on campus have declined between management and labor.”
Peterson has not responded to two voicemail messages left today seeking comment for this story.
UPD Officer Billy Kijsriopas, who serves as the SUPA union director for HSU, elaborated a bit on the allegations when we spoke with him by phone this afternoon.
Regarding the allegation of manipulating crime stats, Kijsriopas said that not long ago the department changed the way it classifies certain unsolved cases in a way that officers felt was less-than-honest. Previously, Kijsriopas said, when a UPD officer took a crime report for, say, graffiti and they had no suspects or leads, the case would be classified as “suspended pending further leads.”
“I think about a year and a half ago the department decided that, regardless of whether the case was solved or not, we would classify [such cases] as ‘cleared/closed,’” Kijsriopas said.
Regarding the allegation of a hostile work environment, including the use of racial slurs directed at minority officers, Kijsriopas, who is of Asian decent, said he was one of the officers in question, though he didn’t hear the slur directly.
Kijsriopas said his colleagues reported to him that Chief Peterson had asked his sergeant, “What’s the deal with Billy’s facial hair? Does he think he’s kung fu or something?”
Kijsriopas cited one other incident — again saying he didn’t hear it directly — in which Peterson, while talking to a black officer, allegedly quoted a Bible verse about slaves being beholden to their masters.
As for the anti-labor letter Peterson allegedly wrote and posted publicly, Kijsriopas said Peterson was upset by a previous SUPA leadership survey wherein officers anonymously rated his performance and that of UPD Lieutenant Melissa Hanson.
“In response he penned a strongly worded letter,” Kijsriopas said. “He called all union members cowards and said if we’re not happy to work here we’re welcome to go somewhere else.” Peterson then printed and posted the letter to a cork board in the officers’ work area in violation of labor laws, Kijsriopas said.
But the worst problem, he said, is Peterson and Hanson’s chronic absenteeism.
“A lot of times officers are left at a loss at what direction to take,” Kijsriopas said. “In law enforcement you always have to have someone higher up to refer to for guidance. With the amount of time the chief is away, it makes it pretty difficult. We get in situations where we ask, ‘What do we do now? Should we do what we think is right and ask for forgiveness?’ A lot of times we do and then we get repercussions.”
With morale among officers at an all-time low, Kijsriopas said, they cast their nearly unanimous vote of no confidence about a month ago. He acknowledged that the move is purely symbolic but said he hopes it spurs change.
“We’ve been trying to work with the chief in many ways, trying to repair the working relationship,” he said. “We’ve given him multiple warnings, like, ‘Hey, this is a labor violation.’ It’s fallen on deaf ears. … This was our way of unifying and saying something needs to change. … Officers are losing sleep. It’s just no good.”
Asked if students or anyone else on campus needs to worry about safety, Kijsriopas said, “The officers are very, very committed to the safety of our campus. The safety concerns are when you have a couple of absentee bosses. Then it becomes an issue.”
The SUPA website includes links to leadership surveys for university police departments throughout the 23-campus California State University system. The most recent batch of surveys posted online is from October 2018, and the one from HSU doesn’t paint quite as condemning a picture of Peterson as today’s press release.
In these surveys, members of the UPD command staff are asked to respond to a series of statements on a scale of one to five, with one meaning “strongly disagree” and five meaning “strongly agree.” Peterson’s overall score was 3.15, which placed him 15th among the 23 police chiefs in the CSU system.
His highest ranking (12th) came in the categories of “Leader — officer Relationship Quality” and “Overall Skills & Expertise.”
His lowest ranking (19th) came thanks to a score of 2.1 in “Accountability.”
Among the general comments included in this survey is one saying, “All officers believe that he [Peterson] does a good job of leading by example.”
Recommendations for improvement include, “Be more sensitive to the morale of the department” and, “Improve staffing situation.”
The only other officer judged via this survey was Lt. Hanson, who fared much worse. Of the 44 “non-chief command staff leaders” judged throughout the CSU system, Hanson came in 43rd, receiving low marks more or less across the board.
HSU’s vice president for administration & finance, Douglas V. Dawes, sent the following message via email to the campus community this afternoon:
Earlier today, I learned of a vote of no confidence in the University’s Police Chief by members of the union within the University Police Department.
At HSU, we take seriously any concerns raised by University employees. We will thoroughly investigate all of the allegations brought to our attention.
HSU has high expectations for all employees within the University Police Department and remains committed to helping them be effective. We support them in the focus, as stated in their mission statement, on being “leaders in creating a safe campus and promoting student success by modeling equity, transparency, enhancing access and approachability, and delivering the very best ethical, community-based law enforcement practices.”
During his tenure at HSU, Chief Peterson and his team have enhanced outreach to students through the Chief’s Advisory Panel, created the safety escort program, and worked closely with Equity Arcata. The University Police Department will remain committed to our engagement in these activities and other efforts to ensure student safety.
Douglas V. Dawes
Vice President for Administration & Finance
# # #
Officers with the Humboldt State University Police Department have cast a vote of “no confidence” in department Chief Donn Peterson, alleging that he’s guilty of frequent absenteeism, manipulation of crime stats and creating a hostile work environment, among other violations.
This news arrived via a press release issued Monday morning by the Statewide University Police Association. In the release, HSU Officer Billy Kijsriopas is quoted saying that Peterson has “frequent, extended bouts of time out of state” to visit family in Florida.
More incendiary are allegations that Peterson has manipulated crime statistics and created a hostile work environment, “including making racial slurs aimed at minority officers.”
Peterson has served as 1st vice president and interim president of the Eureka chapter of the NAACP.
Kijsriopas also alleges that Peterson has committed “blatant violations of labor laws that include a derogatory, anti-labor letter which Peterson authored and posted [publicly].”
According to the press release, nine of 10 officers voted against the chief in the latest annual leadership survey conducted by SUPA, with the tenth abstaining. This result “is in line with previous year’s results,” according to the release.
Before coming to Humboldt County Peterson was a major with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, and the press release says he left that post “amid scandal.”
According to a Fort Lauderdale news report, Peterson was among a group of high-ranking officers suspected of skirting freeway tolls by driving take-home vehicles with license plates taken from cars that had been impounded.
The Outpost left a voice message for Peterson and has reached out to the police union president in Sacramento. We will update this post with more information as it becomes available.
Here’s the press release:
Arcata, CA. According to officials with the Statewide University Police Association (SUPA), its officers at the Humboldt State University Police Department have cast a vote of no confidence in the Department’s police chief, Donn Peterson. Nine of 10 officers who completed the survey voted against the Chief, while the remaining voter abstained.
SUPA conducts annual leadership surveys at each CSU campus. The most recent nearly unanimous vote of no confidence in Police Chief Donn Peterson is in line with previous year’s results. Chief Peterson took the job at HSU after leaving his former post with Florida’s Broward County Sheriff’s Department amid scandal. Peterson still regularly spends time out of state with his family in Florida.
According to HSU Officer Billy Kijsriopas, “Chief Peterson’s frequent, extended bouts of time out of state leave the department in the hands of a Lieutenant who also spends an unusual amount of time away from campus. Our officers look to the Chief for guidance and leadership, but he has fallen short of the standards they and the University community deserve.”
According to Officer Kijsriopas, absenteeism is only a fraction of the failure in leadership the Department has seen since Peterson came to HSU in January 2015. Among the Chief’s other offenses, Kijsriopas cites manipulation of crime statistics reporting, creating a hostile work environment including making racial slurs aimed at minority officers, multiple violations of the Public Safety Officer’s Procedural Bill of Rights Act and blatant violations of labor laws that include a derogatory, anti-labor letter which Peterson authored and posted publically [sic].
Says SUPA president Jeff Solomon, “Our members in the Humboldt State University Police Department have consistently reported absenteeism, mismanagement and more in departmental leadership. When you have a department united like this, clearly there is a problem.”
When asked what steps he and other HSU officers would like to see, Kijsriopas replied, “The damage to morale and the risk to campus safety is too great – it’s past time we had a new chief.”
The Statewide University Police Association represents law enforcement officers on all twenty-three California State University campuses.