Ephraim City Police Chief Ron Rasmussen.

Ephraim police chief responds to allegations, looks to future

 

Suzanne Dean

Publisher

7/13/2017

 

EPHRAIM—Ephraim Police Chief Ron Rasmussen talked about the resignation of three police officers and reacted to some of the officers’ allegations in an interview with the Messenger on Monday.

Rasmussen declined to discuss specific cases in which the officers and others have alleged his police work fell short of the mark and in which he failed to write reports.

“I don’t know what good that would do, I really don’t,” he said. “It’s just going to drag things through the mud once more.”

In one widely discussed case, he said, the victim was resistant to police investigation at the time of the incident and now does not want the past brought up at all.

In the wide ranging interview, Rasmussen emphasized that his focus now is rebuilding his department. Once that’s accomplished, he left his own future up in the air.

Rasmussen said longstanding issues within the Ephraim Police Department came to a head several months ago when Sgt. Len Gasser prepared a template for officers to follow in writing their incident reports.

The officers told the Messenger the template impeded them in writing a clear narrative of what had happened.

But the bottom line, Rasmussen said, was that when the officers were directed to use the template, one of the officers “came after me because, from what I can see, he didn’t get his way.”

Rasmussen said he had always been good to his officers. “I always tried to be there, supporting the officers and their families…I let officers go early to be at their children’s activities or ballgames.”

Last year, Rasmussen said he advocated before the the city council for substantial raises for the three officers. “I asked the city council not to give me a raise, to give it to my officers.”

In fact, Rasmussen said the feedback he received in recent weeks from city superiors and Utah County investigators was that he had been too lax with officers. “When they’ve had issues, I haven’t disciplined them like I should have.”

The resigning officers said they had tried for years to bring the fact that Rasmussen was not writing police reports to the attention of their superiors. But Rasmussen said they never came to him.

“Not to me, absolutely not,” he said. “I have not had any of the officers come talk to me about my reports, other than my sergeant.”

He also rejected allegations that he doesn’t work very hard. On a typical day, he said, he checks in with dispatch about 7:30 a.m., helps at the Main Street school crossing and is on duty, actively engaged in his job, until 5 p.m. His day could include meeting with the public, visiting a school or attending an official government meeting.

“They (the officers) can make allegations all they want, but they weren’t sitting in the seat next to me. They don’t know what I was doing. I can drive throughout this town for over an hour and not find them, but that doesn’t mean they’re not doing their job.”

Rasmussen said he became aware a couple of days before he was placed on administrative leave that the three officers had met with Mayor Richard Squire and a city council member to complain about him.

Following the meeting, Squire talked to Rasmussen and told him the officers had made some allegations, one of which was that his reports were delinquent.

“I admitted to him that I had delinquent reports,” Rasmussen said. “And his request was, ‘Let’s get them done. Let’s get them caught up.’”

In an attempt to comply with that directive, Rasmussen spent the next day in the office writing reports. He went home for dinner, returned to his office in his personal vehicle and went back to work.

“Evidently one of the officers saw me here and made a call to the mayor, (saying) basically I was over here shredding reports. That is not true…That would be a terrible misconduct on my part if it was to be true.”

In fact, Rasmussen said, nearly all documentation related to police work is online and can’t be “shredded.” It is possible to delete case files, but the system keeps a record of such deletions.

Rasmussen said being on leave for a week, at home, with little information about what was going on “was a pretty empty feeling.”

But the next week, on a Monday, he was interviewed by Utah County investigators. By Wednesday night, he was informed the city council planned to reinstate him.

The same Wednesday night, nearly 70 citizens showed up at the city council meeting.

“It was people from all over, not just my (LDS) ward, citizens from all over the city,” Rasmussen said. “There were even citizens from Manti who came over. I even had people calling from other states asking what they could do to help.”

He rejected any suggestion that the city council reinstated him in response to the public pressure. “I think they truly looked at all of the facts given them and I think they made choice they felt was best for the city.”

He said he feels badly about the officer resignations.

“My plan was to meet with all of the officers, try to work out the issues, make things better,” he said. “There was never any intention in my mind to retaliate against the officers.”

News of his reinstatement brought “some relief,” he said, but he still felt, and continues to feel, a lot of pressure.

“I’ve got a lot to do,” he said. “I’ve been working diligently at doing that. I have to hire more officers, and that’s quite a process, plus cover shifts, plus still work on getting reports completed.”

Currently Rasmussen and Sgt. Gasser are taking turns being on duty or on call for 24 hours at a time. It’s the third time in Rasmussen’s career that he has worked 24-hour shifts.

A year or so after he joined the force, the chief and the officer who was second in command both left about the same time. He went on duty 24 hours. Shortly afterward, at the age of 24, he was appointed as chief. He hired two officers. A few years later, both of them left at roughly the same time, leaving him, once again, as the sole Ephraim officer.

Becoming chief at a young age without a lot of time working under other officers has “definitely been a challenge,” he said, “Because I’ve had to learn by doing, by trial and error.”

Right now, Rasmussen’s top goal is getting the department fully staffed, including replacing the three officers who resigned and hiring a fourth officer as authorized by the city council.

The positions will remain open until filled, he said, and he’s hoping to find people with experience. “We’ve got some pretty good applicants,” he said.

The four officers will fill the current schedule, which runs from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. (There are four hours in each 24-hour day when officers are on call from home but not on the street.)

The department will explore reducing the number of shifts Sgt. Gasser covers to give him more time to review reports and do other administrative work. Rasmussen won’t have any regular patrol shifts, but, he said, “Occasionally, there will be times when I’ll fill shifts to help the officers.”

In the long-run, especially since Ephraim is a college town, Rasmussen said he would like to have an officer on patrol 24 hours per day, but it takes eight or nine officers to do that, and that’s more than the city can afford right now.

Rasmussen said that while on leave “a lot went through my mind,” including the possibility of resigning. “But I always felt in my heart that I would stand up and fight, as long as I had the city council, the mayor and the city manager behind me, and the (support of) the citizens of Ephraim. Because that’s truly why I do this; I do this to serve the people, to try to help the people, to try to make Ephraim a better place to live.”

But Rasmussen, who is 52, wasn’t ready to say how long he expects to continue as chief before retiring from the city.

“That’s just a subject my wife and I have to discuss, he said. It just depends on what happens, where we want to take our lives,” he said. “I’d like to get the department back up and running and make a decision after that.”