- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Members of the Charles County Fraternal Order of Police voted down 128-122 a motion of no confidence against Sheriff Rex Coffey during an all-day vote Tuesday.
FOP President Sgt. John Elliott declined to specify what spurred members to request the vote but said, “There were some internal issues and management issues that the FOP brought forward that basically caused this vote, and it was significant enough in those people’s eyes to hold this vote.”
Saying he was “hurt” that the vote was held, Coffey (D) said that the process “was supposed to be about internal issues, but it reeks of politics.”
“Many police agencies across the country have lost pay and benefits. I’ve made sure we haven’t,” he said. “This was orchestrated by a few and it failed, and we need to put this distraction behind us and get back to crime fighting. ... I’ve absolutely given my all, and I’m hurt by it.”
Coffey said that disagreements on the procedures for promotions led to discord within the rank and file. In one instance, Coffey said, he received blowback after promoting a patrol officer to the Criminal Investigations Division 10 days before his two-year probationary period with the agency expired.
“CID was begging for the guy, and he’s an excellent officer, but it was things like that,” Coffey said.
A motion to hold a vote of no confidence was originally brought forward in July, but with only 107 members present — about one-third of the FOP’s membership — Elliott decided to table the motion until the group’s August meeting.
Members opted to stage the vote on the day of their September meeting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to encourage full participation and gain “an accurate depiction of how the members felt,” Elliott said. “But the ultimate end result was that we still have confidence in Sheriff Coffey, and we’re going to move forward.
“There’s 49 percent of the members that feel like there’s some issues which warranted the vote of no confidence, but I would say the majority of the membership says we do have confidence in Sheriff Coffey, and my job as the president, regardless of how I feel, is to represent the views of the membership,” Elliott said.
The FOP’s membership comprises just more than 300 sworn and retired sheriff’s deputies, he added. In his more than 12 years with the sheriff’s office, Elliott said, “We’ve never held a vote like this.”
Coffey indicated he viewed the internal issues as minor but unavoidable given the differences of opinion that inevitably surface within large agencies.
“No agency, no business, it’s impossible to fix everything, to look down the road and see every little nuance coming up,” he said. “I don’t understand what’s going on. They’ve lost no pension, no pay. I’ve driven crime down to unprecedented levels, so I just don’t know. It’s all about politics. ’Tis the season.”
The FOP plans to sit down with the sheriff and his administration to come up with a list of priority issues to address, “and I think [Coffey] would be more than willing to do that. I don’t doubt that for a second,” Elliott said.
“I already told them when I met with them I would be happy to entertain them anytime. Nothing really needs to change there on my part. I’m always willing to talk to anybody about anything, and they know that,” Coffey said. “At the end of the day, we’re here to fight crime, and I always to do whatever I can to keep morale up. Morale is very fickle in law enforcement.”
Elliott said that the vote will have no bearing on officers’ job performance.
“We have our differences sometimes between the FOP and the administration, but in no way shape or form will it affect the professionalism of the service we provide to the citizens,” he said. “We’re still going to do what needs to be done for the citizens of Charles County. I think that’s an accurate view from both sides.”
Lt. Troy Berry, an operational patrol commander and 2014 candidate for sheriff, called the vote a “historical event,” stating that it was the first time a vote of no confidence had been held against the sheriff in the agency’s 355-year history.
“Nearly half of the officers who voted do not have confidence in Sheriff Rex Coffey, and as a patrol commander, I work with the officers daily, and there are leadership and integrity issues within the sheriff’s office,” Berry said. “This administration has caused a divide among the officers of the sheriff’s office. They are just crying out for new leadership, and I think that’s indicative in the vote.”
Berry filed a lawsuit in March accusing Coffey of interfering with internal investigations for political reasons. No court date has been set.