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Ashland Police Trainee Believes He Was Fired for Labor Complaint

State labor regulators found that multiple law enforcement agencies were 'in violation of state and federal law' by failing to accurately track hours worked by their trainees. Former trainee Daniel Ensley was dismissed before he could complete the academy.

Posted: Dec. 7, 2018 2:20 PM
Updated: Dec. 7, 2018 2:46 PM

This article was previously published with the results of the BOLI investigation. It now includes interviews with former trainee Daniel Ensley and Chief Tighe O'Meara.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A former employee of the Ashland Police Department (APD) believes he was fired for making a complaint to Oregon's labor regulators after he noticed that law enforcement trainees were not paid for all hours worked at the state's police academy.

An investigation by the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) beginning in October ultimately found that police trainee Daniel Ensley was correct in his complaint. However, he would be terminated by the APD regardless.

"My father is law enforcement, my grandpa is law enforcement and my great grandpa is law enforcement," Ensley told NewsWatch 12. After a stint in the military, Ensley had planned to be the fourth generation in his family to wear blue.

Law enforcement trainees receive their education from the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) in Salem. This training, however, is considered to be work — and according to BOLI, trainees are supposed to be paid for all hours that they work by the agency that sent them to the academy.

After being hired by the APD, Ensley began his 16-week training program at DPSST. However, he quickly noticed that he and many other trainees were expected to work hours for which they would not be paid.

"We're only gonna write forty hours on our time cards, it's all gonna balance out in the end . . . just do it that way," Ensley says he was told. When Ensley tried to bring the issue up with a sergeant, he says he was told that there was no expectation of overtime pay. Finally, Ensley turned to BOLI.

"BOLI received a complaint from a trainee at the DPSST alleging that he was not being paid by his home agency for all hours worked," said Christine E. Lewis, Legislative and Communications Director with BOLI.

The resulting investigation uncovered a disconnect. The home law enforcement agencies tended to pay their employees for a flat 40-hour work-week, while DPSST might require more hours of work without those adjusted hours being logged.

BOLI officials found that trainees of DPSST were often required to attend a flag ceremony before their classes began most mornings, spent their allotted breaks marching in formation, spent lunch or evening hours working on reports of varying length, and sometimes had to dedicate extra time outside of class toward a community policing project.

"Other trainees reported that they did not fill out their own time-cards while at the Academy and that they were getting paid for 40 hours per week – again, unless their overtime was pre-authorized for additional training," BOLI said in their report.

Because the DPSST has no direct involvement with the trainees time-cards or pay, the responsibility appears to fall on the departments that sent in their trainees.

"The Bureau concluded that 1) activities mandated by DPSST do tend to exceed 40 hours per week; 2) overwhelmingly, trainees are only paid for 40 hours per week. Therefore, we are advising 185 of the effected home agencies that trainees very likely are not being paid for all hours worked while at DPSST in violation of state and federal law," Lewis said.

Ashland Police was one of those 185 agencies to receive the BOLI report.

"Additionally, because trainees have not been accurately reporting all hours worked, the agencies may also be in violation of recordkeeping statutes and rules," Lewis continued.

Ashland Police Chief Tighe O'Meara claims that he wasn't concerned, even after receiving BOLI's findings.

"It's not just APD it's not just DPSST, it's every law enforcement agency in the state will just have to modify how it does stuff — and how it does that exactly, I don't know, but it's not that big of a deal. It's somebody giving us a course correction, but we'll take it and continue to moving forward," O'Meara told NewsWatch 12.

With just a few weeks left in his 16-week training, APD terminated Ensley's employment with them. He says that he doesn't believe the justification they gave, and thinks that his firing had everything to do with the BOLI complaint. O'Meara says that he can't specify why he fired Ensley, but that it had nothing to do with the BOLI complaint.

Ensley says he isn't worried about the 60-odd hours of overtime that he's owed — what worries him are the ethical implications for law enforcement.

"I'm hoping that it starts the change," Ensley said. "That we need to see there where police officers are being taught to do the right thing and shown the right thing at all times."

The full text of the BOLI report may be viewed or downloaded below.

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