WILKES-BARRE – A frustrated police Chief Marcella Lendacky spoke publicly Thursday for the first time since a report critical of her leadership was issued late last month, defending her handling of the department.
Lendacky broke her silence in response to a Times Leader editorial criticizing the lack of information released about a Monday night incident in the city. It was first posted online Wednesday and published in Thursday’s print edition.
“I’ve had it with being a scapegoat,” Lendacky said in a meeting with reporters on Thursday.
On Monday night, police responded to a report of shots fired on Wyoming Street near the home of Commander of Investigations/Operations Joseph Coffay. A significant portion of the city’s North End was cordoned off while the incident was investigated.
No injuries were reported, and the search for an armed suspect continued Thursday evening.
The Times Leader editorial noted that 36 hours after the incident, there was still no official press release, nor any post on the department’s Facebook page regarding Monday’s incident or the search for a suspect.
Lendacky agreed that information about the incident should have been released by the department, and said the timely issuing of police reports is one of the problems she has been trying to address as chief.
“There are failures in that area that I have been addressing for two years, four months and prior to that,” said Lendacky, who was named chief in early 2016.
Noting that she previously spent eight years in the records division, Lendacky said she realizes the importance of sharing information with the public, no matter what the case is.
Commander of Patrol Ron Foy, who also attended the meeting, concurred.
“Every call we go out on is a life-changing event,” he said.
Lendacky, who is scheduled to retire June 3, said she issued instructions to improve timely posting of incidents to the Facebook page.
“I had the commanders in this morning, and they have been told in no uncertain terms that they need to fix it,” she said.
A report of the incident was posted to WBPD’s Facebook page Thursday evening, including a description of the suspect. It indicated that the subject fired approximately seven shots from a semi-automatic handgun, with no injuries or damage to property. Numerous leads are being followed up, the post said.
Dissension in the ranks?
When Lendacky spoke about being a scapegoat, she was referencing the editorial, but could just as easily have been referring to the report issued by the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association.
City council contracted the independent association in November to determine the cause of ongoing discord in the department. PCPA’s final report, distributed to city officials in early April, did not call for Lendacky to step down from her $95,481-a-year post. Instead, it alleged her lack of professional training made her ill-suited to lead the more than 80-member force, the largest in Luzerne County.
Lendacky gave notice of her retirement as the report began circulating.
This week’s events, and reaction to the editorial, underscored the brittle relations between WBPD leadership and the rank and file.
The Wilkes-Barre Police Benevolent Association shared the editorial on Facebook on Wednesday, commenting “Please read this and thank you to everyone who supports the men and women of the PBA. Imagine what has been learned and there are still no changes … .”
Lendacky on Thursday mentioned several other areas where she said she has had difficulty getting officers to follow proper procedure, including fingerprinting those who are arrested, following the tenets of the Victim and Witness Protection Act, Juvenile Act, Domestic Violence Act and the filing of accident reports.
She pointed to fingerprinting procedures as one of the successes of her tenure as chief. Lendacky said last year the number of suspects being fingerprinted was so low the city nearly missed out on a grant.
The percentage of suspects being fingerprinted rose from 60 percent in the second quarter of 2017 to 74 percent in the fourth quarter.
“That shows you what I accomplished,” Lendacky said, quickly pointing out that that success was not acknowledged in the 100-page report done by the PCPA.
Lendacky laid the blame for the difficulties squarely on the shoulders of her subordinates.
Saying many of the improvements she’s tried to make in the department have been met with resistance, Lendacky showed reporters an inch-thick folder of emails and memos dating back as far as 2014 dealing with the posting of police reports.
While the wording of the emails differed, they all showed a concerted effort on Lendacky’s part to get watch commanders to make police reports public in a timely manner.
The number and frequency of emails seemed to demonstrate the difficulty Lendacky had in getting watch commanders to post reports.
Police union responds
Sgt. Phil Myers, president of the Wilkes-Barre Police Benevolent Association, said he does not know why the information regarding the Monday incident was not posted to the police Facebook page.
“I really highly doubt that there was anything done deliberately,” Myers said of the watch commander on duty that night who was responsible for the post.
There was a lot going on that night and it could have fallen through the cracks, Myers said.
But for Lendacky to throw an officer “under the bus,” it “just goes to show the quality of leadership we’re dealing with,” Myers said.
Both the chief and Foy were on scene that night, and “I would have assumed they would take charge,” Myers said.
Lendacky bristled at the suggestion she was responsible for the communication issue, and said both she and Foy have taken media courses.
“Lacking in this area?” Lendacky said. “Absolutely not. Absolutely not.”
Times Leader reporter Jerry Lynott contributed to this report.