A recent incident involving two Decatur poice officers and $7 taken from a patrol car resulted in the officers getting their jobs back but losing pay and rank.

At Issue: Did Decatur handle $7 police dept. theft correctly?

Two Decatur police officers lost their jobs in October after taking $7 from a department patrol car. Officer Joshua Speed found the money under the driver’s seat while searching for a lost microphone. He kept $5 and gave the remaining $2 to Lt. Eric Jackson. Both officers were in good standing in the 47-person department and Jackson was previously the department’s Officer of the Year.

According to the official report, about six to eight hours after receiving a text from a third officer urging him to report the money, Jackson added $5 to his amount, tacked it on the department bulletin board and sent an email announcing the found money.

Ultimately, though taking action before any superior officer contacted him, Jackson resigned. According to the report “his corrective action was not taken within the time limit or within the procedures for found property … established by the department.”

Meantime Speed was fired. He was off the day following the incident and hadn’t attempted to return his portion prior to being contacted by a superior.

As City Manager Peggy Merriss pointed out in her official statement, Mike Booker, Decatur’s police chief since 1996, has publically stated many times “that those who ‘lie, cheat or steal’ will not be tolerated.”

While not wanting to comment specifically on this case Ken Vance, Executive Director of the state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, calls these type situations a “moral turpitude violation.” He said he’s seen officers revoked for less than $7 simply because they aren’t truthful.

In the end Merriss overturned the terminations of both officers. While theoretically agreeing with Booker’s “lie, cheat or steal” ethic, she overruled both his recommendation and that of an independent hearing officer who’d reviewed the case.

Nearly a month after losing their jobs Speed and Jackson were put back work though both incurred penalties including a one-year probation, demotion and reduction in pay.

“Without question this involved very serious performance issues,” Merriss told the AJC. “But I felt a big part of my decision was taking into account [Speed and Jackson’s] contributions and their overall record. For me [reinstatement] was best for the city of Decatur as an organization and for the community.”

Do you agree with Merriss’ rationale, or even think it proper a city manager overrule her department head? Or, given the amount of money involved, should the terminations never have happened at all?

Send comments to communtynews@ajc.com. Responses may be published next week.

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