Oregon Police Trainee Fired Just Before Graduation After Whistleblower Complaint
Salem, OR – Following a police recruit's complaint, an Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) investigation has revealed that police recruits attending the state’s police academy have been forced to work overtime hours without being paid.
The bureau’s findings will affect all law enforcement agencies in the state of Oregon, KGW reported.
The BOLI was alerted to the issue by Ashland Police Department Trainee Daniel Ensley, who was sent to the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) academy so that he could gain the training necessary to become a certified law enforcement officer.
Ensley, a 27-year-old military veteran whose father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all served as law enforcement officers, said he first noticed the mandatory overtime after he had been at the academy for about a month.
Ensley sent an email to his supervisor, Ashland Police Department Sergeant Robert Smith, inquiring about getting paid for working over 40 hours per week while at the academy.
“The academy is a 40 hr. a week academy,” Sgt. Smith wrote in response, according to an email obtained by KGW. “If classes exceed the 8 hr. day, there is no expectation that you are to be compensated with overtime pay.”
“Any additional training that would be offered outside of scheduled hours would be overtime, as long as you notify me and get permission…Homework is an exception, if you plan to succeed, and is not viewed as an overtime issue,” the sergeant wrote.
“I don’t see this as an ethical issue with DPSST,” he added. “As in any training environment, classes may run longer than expected, or there may be times the day ends early.”
“It just seemed wrong to me,” said Ensley, who subsequently contacted BOLI about his concerns.
However, bureau began investigating the issue, and ultimately determined that trainees were frequently mandated to work over 40 hours per week without additional compensation.
Law enforcement agencies were paying trainees for a 40-hour work week, but DPSST often required them to attend a flag ceremony before classes started, to march in formation during breaks, and to spend time writing mandatory reports during lunch or after classes, KDRV reported.
The trainees are paid by their home agencies – not the DPSST.
The BOLI sent a letter to 185 law enforcement agencies advising them of the investigative findings, and pointed out that it is a violation of state and federal law to not pay trainees for all of the hours they work during their time at the academy.
The state also found that the department could be violating “recordkeeping statutes for not recording the actual hours worked by the trainees,” KGW reported.
During his 13th week at the academy – just three weeks shy of graduation – Ensley was fired from the Ashland police department.
“I was told I was released from law enforcement with Ashland PD for being a risk,” Ensley told the news outlet.
He said the department told him they were letting him go for an incident “a few months prior,” during which he “cleared” his firearm before he put it away.
“But that is exactly how I did it in the military and I was trained to do that in the military,” Ensley said. “There was nothing in the policy manual that addressed it.”
He said he believes the real reason he was fired was because of his inquiry to the BOLI.
“I believe that that’s the risk. I was reporting something that was going on there in the Ashland Police Department,” Ensley explained. “The academy touched a lot on doing the right thing, being ethical even when no one is watching. It felt, almost like a stab in the back.”
Ensley, a married father of two young children, said he is worried that other law enforcement agencies won’t want to hire him after they learn he was fired by the Ashland Police Department.
He has filed a civil rights violation against the agency, which remains under investigation.