Policing The Police

Sheriff hires ex-police chief to handle internal investigations

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From street cop to police chief to private investigator, Gordy Gartner has had a lengthy and interesting 40-year career.

Now, a local law enforcement office has hired the former Payson police chief as its new professional standards investigator. But wait: it’s not Payson, despite the struggles with officer misbehavior in recent years. Instead, recently elected Gila County Sheriff Adam Shepherd hired Gartner three weeks ago to take over internal investigations.

Shepherd said he needs an extra investigator because supervising officers get so bogged down in day-to-day duties they often don’t have the time to conduct investigations when citizens make complaints against officers.

That meant some complaints went unanswered or were delayed. That didn’t work for Shepherd.

“Have you ever heard the saying justice delayed is justice denied?” he said. “Well it means if you wait too long to deal with something that is wrong, then it is never really dealt with.”

Shepherd met with Chief Deputy Johnny Sanchez and Sarah White and the group hashed out how to better handle complaints. They settled on enhancing a position once held by John Desanti, who had primarily handled background checks for the 160 employees in the office. Desanti left the $30,000-a-year position several months ago. Instead of filling the job, the group added new duties, gave it a pay boost and sent out a job announcement.

They received 11 applications, conducted six interviews and narrowed it to four finalists.

The county’s human resources de­partment ranked the applicants based on experience and education and Gartner came out on top.

“We were looking for someone who has familiarity with the entire operations of a police force,” Shepherd said.

Gartner, 61, fits that bill to a tee.

He was the Payson police chief for many years and has spent nearly his entire working career in law enforcement. After he retired from the Payson Police Department in 2007, he started a private investigation firm with his wife, primarily locating missing persons, helping attorneys on cases and conducting background checks for companies.

Gartner said he was getting ready to move the PI business to the Valley when he learned about the position at the GCSO.

“I knew I could do the job,” he said. “My days of wanting to manage and lead people are over, but I still enjoy the investigations and interviewing people side of it, sorting things out and getting to the bottom of it.”

Sanchez said Gartner’s experience makes him a perfect fit.

“The good thing about Gordy is that he worked from the bottom end up from the start of his police career, so he knows what the issues are in patrol, investigations, narcotics and administration,” he said. “He has an in-depth background and his fact collecting is great.”

Gartner already has a stack of cases to work through.

Shepherd said he almost felt guilty giving Gartner so much to do so early on.

The work includes going through five “full blown” citizen complaints. Shepherd would not provide any details of the cases since the investigations are ongoing.

A good example of the type of cases Gartner will handle is when another deputy accused Sgt. John France of drinking before he was called in from off duty to help respond to a shoot-out at Roosevelt Lake last year.

Lt. Tim Scott, France’s supervisor, conducted the investigation and decided France had acted judiciously. However, asking an officer to investigate someone they work with daily can create an awkward situation afterward, Shepherd said.

“So now you have got somebody they supervise every day that they have got to do an investigation on,” he said.

Most offices have an internal investigations division to circumvent this, creating a separation between the patrol chain of command and officers.

Since Gartner will report directly to Sanchez and White, he is autonomous.

Gartner will investigate both civilian and officer complaints. Shepherd said such complaints are just a part of law enforcement.

“Most of our contacts with the public are not positive, so when somebody gets arrested they always feel like they are being picked on,” he said.

Still, the office needs to address all of those complaints in a timely manner. Holding officers accountable builds credibility and trust with the community, he said.

Sanchez said he wants people to know that they are watching what deputies are doing and “if there is a problem we are going to try and address it and get it done as soon as possible.”

If it takes the office six months to answer a complaint, people may conclude the department isn’t doing anything or doesn’t care, Shepherd said.

Scott said he is happy someone else is taking over internal investigations. “It is going to help us (the supervisors) out quite a bit,” he said. “We can concentrate more on patrol. We are trying to deal with day-to-day operations and trying to do that was spreading us too thin,” he said.

Besides complaints, Gartner will also handle all background checks for the office, which includes patrol and jail positions. He could also help human resources with background checks and handle media relation duties.

For all this, Gartner will make $62,000 annually. Shepherd said the department kept within its budget by eliminating other positions. The move could actually save money on contracts with private firms.

Gartner has worked with Shepherd before. He had Shepherd and Payson Police Chief Don Engler in the same academy class in 1984.

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