The thin blue line

Can CPD conduct an unbiased investigation of one of its own?

Three weeks ago, I wrote about the press conference organized by Peter Durfee, president the Chico Police Officers’ Association, who had come to the defense of Todd Boothe, a Chico Police officer accused of posting racist images (and a homophobic slur) on his Facebook page. City Councilman Randall Stone had pointed out Boothe’s page to the media after Boothe had trash-talked Stone on the councilman’s Facebook page.

Later that day, Police Chief Kirk Trostle weighed in, toeing the line—the thin blue line separating cops from the public—in an emailed statement. He began it with defensive rhetoric, including how difficult the allegations have been on the department, and ended it with his “statement of purpose.” It reads, in part, “We defend, guard, and protect the traditions of liberty, freedom, of right, and justice.”

Trostle said the CPD doesn’t advocate discrimination and noted that it will be adhering to the Police Officers Bill of Rights in an administrative review of Boothe’s conduct. But what about the department’s own policy? CN&R News Editor Tom Gascoyne’s recent update on the matter (see “Facebook flap continues,” Newslines, Nov. 27) outlines a CPD policy that Boothe clearly violated.

According to the policy manual, prohibited forms of expression include “[s]peech or expression that, while not made pursuant to an official duty, is significantly linked to, or related to, the Chico Police Department and tends to compromise the mission, function, reputation or professionalism of the Chico Police Department.” Moreover, a privacy policy on social networking makes it clear that anything he posted publicly is fair game for scrutiny.

Other than his prepared statement, Trostle has been tight-lipped about the incident, so we don’t know who’s investigating the matter. And that’s important. It definitely shouldn’t be any CPOA leaders. Durfee denied that the images posted on Boothe’s Facebook page were racist. They were “political satire,” he charged.

Some of the images were cloaked as political propaganda, but they most certainly were racist, one of them overtly so. Anyone who cannot recognize this has no business investigating Boothe’s conduct.

This whole flap is a result of the very contentious negotiations taking place between the CPOA and the city. Stone, who sits on the Police Community Advisory Board, has been the City Council’s most vocal member when it comes to pointing out that the city’s budget deficit is tied to the unsustainable pay and benefits packages that were afforded to public-safety employees when Chico was the land of milk and honey—or at least governed that way. The city can no longer afford them.

The CPOA posits that Boothe was only exerting his First Amendment rights. No mention that he violated his department’s policy and that, in doing so, he also demonstrated poor impulse control. He should be reprimanded. The larger question for the investigation is whether Boothe’s poor judgment has carried over into his police work.

Unfortunately, based on what the public has seen thus far—an aversion to crossing that thin blue line—I have little confidence in this review.