REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio (WCMH) — After multiple officers and civilian employees with years-long municipal careers left, citing a hostile work environment, the City of Reynoldsburg is working to avoid a crisis at its police department.
Reynoldsburg Mayor Joe Begeny on Thursday disclosed to city employees the results of an audit conducted by the third-party firm, PRADCO. Begeny said the audit cost roughly $22,000.
While auditors identified a strong potential for the department to “improve and be a better place to work,” PRADCO noted recurring themes among interviews with employees. Common complaints, according to the audit report, included feelings of discomfort speaking candidly, fears of retaliation, perceptions of favoritism, and inconsistent discipline between employees.
“Law enforcement can be hard, as you know. And there’s good and bad days,” said Brian Marvin, who worked with the Reynoldsburg Division of Police for 20 years as an officer and detective, then as a civilian for five years until his departure in 2022.
He now works in the private sector.
“Do you think at 53 years old, I wanted to go start a new career? That was what I wanted to do?” Marvin said. “It’s kind of hard to explain, but when things are bad on the road, you kind of need a safe place. You need to have a home. And the department had always been that. Guardianship was there. People were going to take care of you, until recently.”
Marvin ran the dispatch center and managed software during his final years with Reynoldsburg. During that time, he said numerous employees complained to him about the eroding morale within the Division of Police.
“Officers were coming in — both new and old — and expressing that things aren’t going well,” Marvin said. “They would use the phrases, ‘I got a target on my back.’ Or, ‘I don’t want to be next.’
Marvin said he took his concerns with police leadership to the mayor’s office, and was treated differently when Chief Curtis Baker learned about it. He said the deputy chief stopped talking to him, and Baker stopped including him in meetings.
“It was real apparent that I was being left out, to the point where I was managing the software and they were getting software in for my dispatch staff to use, and I wasn’t even allowed access,” Marvin said.
According to Begeny, 27 officers, civilian employees and dispatchers left since the start of 2021.
Marvin is one of three former Reynoldsburg police officers who spoke with NBC4 on the record about what they described as a toxic work environment that drove them away from a career they loved.
“I had to leave on my own terms, while I still have what I believe was my integrity,” said Bill Early, a lieutenant who retired after 27 years with department.
Like Marvin, Early, who had previously applied for Chief of Police, described being ostracized by department leadership after sharing ideas with the mayor’s office.
“I’ve voiced my opinions about something, and they fall on deaf ears, and then I’m treated almost as though I’m kind of an outcast at that point,” Early said.
Ricardo Thompson left Reynoldsburg in October, just shy of what would have been his three-year anniversary as an officer there.
“I did not want to resign. I love Reynoldsburg, I love the job, I love the community,” said Thompson, who now works in the Cincinnati area for the Green Township Police Department.
On his last day with Reynoldsburg, Thompson posted a farewell on his Facebook page that went viral within the community.
“This decision did not come easy but due to intolerable working conditions within the department, I must pursue other opportunities in order to preserve my wellbeing and mental health,” he wrote.
“You get tired. It’s kind of, almost — it’s kind of like the bully. The bully keeps bullying until the person does something,” Thompson told NBC4.
Thompson said the final straw was when he called out sick due to an injury he sustained during his previous shift, and leadership showed up at his home to see if he was there.
“I was told if I didn’t like it here, to leave,” Thompson said.
The PRADCO audit also points this out: “People expect to be told to leave if they do not look favorably on certain aspects of the agency or if they disagree with command staff.”
“The question that you should be asking instead of, ‘Well if you don’t like it here, you should leave’ — the question is, ‘Well, what can we do to make things better?’” said Begeny during an interview with NBC4.
Begeny said he’d heard from departing officers that they were having workplace issues, but Thompson’s Facebook post served as the final push to take action.
“It became, ‘OK, now we actually are starting to see a pattern. So let’s find out what’s going on,'” Begeny said. “You don’t want an officer to leave because of mental anguish. That means that something was going on that we could have done a better job dealing with. And so that was my frustration.”
While Begeny said the turnover among Reynoldsburg police employees is concerning to him, he noted that the department has recently been approved to expand to 70 sworn officers, and that it currently employs 68. Seven dispatchers left since January 2021, but only three have been hired.
Begeny said he is working with Baker and Deputy Chief Rhonda Grizzell to address these problems within the department.
“I think what we’re going to do is start with counseling,” Begeny said. “I don’t think that the problems are so systematic that it would have to be any kind of change in leadership, but I think it’s a change in philosophy in what’s going on.”
Begeny said the city is rolling out a Google Doc for employees to anonymously submit complaints. In a letter to city employees, he wrote that he and police leadership are still coming up with additional solutions to improve the workplace environment. He called the PRADCO audit a starting point.
“I think if we don’t do anything now, then it does become a crisis situation,” Begeny said. “So we’re at that moment right now where we need to take care of the issues that are addressed in there, and we need to do it sooner rather than later.”
Through the mayor, Baker and Grizzell declined interviews with NBC4, citing scheduling and staffing issues.
Baker responded to questions via email, writing in part, “Our officers should be free from any hesitation if they have any feedback about our division of police. We will work to improve our communication policies so that all employees can provide feedback, be it positive or negative, without fear. Our goal is to continue to build a positive, productive, and respected police department that our community can be proud of.”
PRADCO’S audit report and Mayor Begeny’s letter to city employees can be viewed below.