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Unlocking the Matrix

City Hall turns to the Richmond Police Department for disciplinary guidelines.



What exactly does a city employee have to do to get fired?

The question came up in a roundabout way earlier this month when the city auditor detailed the results of an investigation that found a Department of Public Works employee drove a dump truck and excavator to his house in Henrico County to dig up a stump.

The city auditor recommended disciplinary action, but when pressed by members of City Council's audit committee, Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall wasn't able to say what, if any, punishment had been meted out.

Marshall said it was up to each department to determine employee discipline on a case-by-case basis because there are no set guidelines. That is, except in one department.

The Richmond Police Department has implemented a system that defines how employees who violate department policies should be punished, Marshall said. It's somewhat frighteningly referred to as a "matrix of discipline." Marshall said his administration planned to expand the policy to other departments.

"Employees in the Police Department know exactly what their punishment will be depending on what policy they violate," Marshall said.

How does this disciplinary chart work? It's fairly straightforward. Each entry in the police department's code of conduct is classified into three levels.

First-level offenses are deemed not so serious and include use of tobacco in city buildings and failure to maintain appropriate personal grooming.

The second level is behavior that's somewhat more problematic: sleeping while on duty, neglect of duty, failure to be courteous and insubordination.

Then there are the third-level offenses, the most serious. There are 11 total and they cover: sexual activity on duty, cowardice, possession and use of drugs, alcoholic beverages and drugs in police facilities, use of alcohol while on duty or in uniform, dissemination of confidential information, lack of truthfulness, excessive use of force, mistreatment of people in custody and inefficiency.

Here's where the matrix comes in: Each offense level has a corresponding punishment depending on the number of times it's been repeated in a two-year period. There are six levels of punishment that ratchet from a general corrective action to suspension to termination.

Let's say you're an officer who doesn't shave for four days straight. You're hit with a first-level offense. Corrective action is taken: You're told to shave. Do it again within two years and you get a reprimand. Do it again within two years, and you get another reprimand — that's the worst that can happen.

Second-level offenses work the same, except that first-time offenses, say for gambling off-duty, you get hit with the reprimand and it escalates from there. No matter how many second-level offenses an officer racks up in two years, the maximum prescribed punishment is a six- to 10-day suspension.

Third-level offenses can result in firing, but only on the second or third violation. Display cowardice while on duty once and you're guaranteed a six- to 10-day suspension. Do it again and you could get fired or suspended for 11 days. If you aren't discharged the second time and you do it a third, you're definitely out the door.

What would have happened if the Department of Public Work's employee with one less stump in his yard were held to the Police Department's personnel policies? Misuse of department equipment is a second-level offense. The auditor's report also found this particular employee, identified only as a lead mason, also frequently went home during work, spending 16 hours there while on the clock between July and November. That's another second-level offense — neglect of duty.

Add the two together and he would get a reprimand or a suspension. As to what his punishment was, Richmonders aren't likely to find out: Though the employee is never identified, a spokeswoman for the department wouldn't comment on personnel issues.

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