Collegedale, TN – The Collegedale Police Department and the city it serves are in hot water after the chief fired a veteran officer who questioned the department’s implementation of an illegal quota system.
A quota system that required every Collegedale police officer to get a minimum of 25 citations or arrests per month, and document at least 100 “patrol activities” in that same time, was launched by the police department in December of 2018, according to a lawsuit filed by former Collegedale Police Officer Robert Bedell, the Times Free Press reported.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Hamilton County Circuit Court on July 3, alleged that Collegedale Police Chief Brian Hickman had implemented a quota system at the police department in direct violation of a Tennessee law that prohibits quotas in law enforcement.
Tennessee law says that departments may set standards for their officers but may not suggest or require the officers issue a predetermined number of traffic citations in a specified period of time, the Times Free Press reported.
But former Officer Bedell said he attended a mandatory meeting at the Collegedale PD on Jan. 6 with his sergeant and two other officers during which the sergeant outlined the new minimum monthly requirements.
The sergeant warned that failure to hit established minimum numbers on a monthly basis would result in write ups to be put in their personnel files.
The lawsuit said that Officer Bedell immediately asked whether the new requirements were legal given that Tennessee law prohibited quotas, and his sergeant said he was unfamiliar with that law.
The police department kept track of the stats and posted them on the wall inside headquarters. They also ranked all of the Collegedale police officers in order based on their citations, arrests, and patrol activities statistics that were collected.
The very next day after Officer Bedell asked about the legality of setting quotas in the meeting, Collegedale Police Patrol Division Lieutenant Jack Sapp sent out an email to the officers that explained the new quota system wasn’t actually a quota system, but rather, it was “standards and directives,” the Times Free Press reported.
The email said that field interviews and traffics stops with written or verbal warnings would also count towards each officer’s total.
However, the stats flyer posted on the police department’s wall did not include numbers for those activities in the counts used to determine rankings, the Times Free Press reported.
Three days after that, on Jan. 7, Chief Hickman told Officer Bedell he needed to talk to him when he arrived for work, according to the lawsuit.
He led the officer into a conference room where two other officials waited and then told Officer Bedell he had the option to be fired or to resign.
When Officer Bedell asked what he had done wrong, the chief told him that Tennessee was an at-will hiring state and therefore, he owed the officer no explanation for his termination, the lawsuit alleged.
Officer Bedell pointed out that he wouldn’t get unemployment benefits if he resigned and Chief Hickman told him that he wouldn’t get unemployment anyway because the department planned to oppose his application for it.
“Chief Hickman further stated that if Officer Bedell agreed to resign, the Department would not seek to revoke his Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certification,” the lawsuit said. “In order to be a law enforcement officer in the state of Tennessee, an officer must maintain his or her POST certification. Without a POST certification, Officer Bedell would not be able to work in law enforcement.”
Faced with losing his state certification, Officer Bedell felt he had no choice but to resign under duress.
Chief Hickman refused to tell Officer Bedell who had conducted the investigation that led to his termination, according to the lawsuit.
“At all relevant times, Officer Bedell’s resignation was involuntary, coerced and forced by his supervisors with the Collegedale Police Department and the City of Collegedale including Chief Hickman and City Manager Ted Rogers,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit alleged that Officer Bedell’s forced resignation was in direct retaliation for the officer asking about the legality of the department’s new quotas.
Former Officer Bedell’s lawsuit said that his termination violated several other Tennessee laws that guarantee police officers due process, including one called the Tennessee Public Protection Act that specifically prohibits terminating at-will employees for reporting violations of local, state, or federal law.
When Collegedale City Commissioner Ethan White learned about the police department’s quota system after Bedell’s lawsuit was filed, he called for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to step in and get to the bottom of it, the Times Free Press reported.
"I'm speechless," White said during the public meeting held after the lawsuit was filed. "I know there is pending litigation and a wrongful termination suit... but too long here in Collegedale we've swept things under the rug."
Former Officer Bedell’s lawsuit has asked the court to reinstate the police officer, award back pay and benefits, as well as $250,000 in compensatory damages, $250,000 in punitive damages, and attorney and court fees.