A Rhinelander police sergeant recently served a four-day suspension for "taking extended periods of unproductive time," according to records obtained by the River News through an open records request.
The officer, Sgt. Jacob Simkins, also voluntarily took a demotion to patrolman, although the notice of discipline issued by Capt. Ron Lueneburg Jan. 2 did not call for any reduction in rank. Simkins has been a member of the Rhinelander Police Department since February 2008.
According to the records, other officers came to Lueneburg in early November with concerns that Simkins was spending an excessive amount of time in the "sensitivity interview room" at the police station during his shift, and may have abused the department's sick leave policy. After conducting an internal investigation that lasted until mid-December, Lueneburg filed a report which states that Simkins admitted that he had spent up to two hours at a time in the interview room but was not sleeping while on duty. The report states Simkins admitted to spending up to two hours in the room "to get his bearings together," but denied spending two to five hours at a time as others had reported to Lueneburg. He did admit to "just catching a fiver" between four and six times in the room.
In multiple interviews with Lueneburg, Simkins repeatedly insisted he did not miss any calls while he was in the interview room.
According to the report, Simkins told Lueneburg that he had seen other officers do the same thing "on a common basis on both day and night shift."
He also disputed two instances where he was accused of violating the department's sick leave policy, and in the final report Lueneburg did not substantiate that allegation.
In the later stages of the investigation, Simkins did admit to having a personal reason for the breaks, claiming he did not want to bring that matter up during the early stages of the investigation. He also reiterated that the event in question "was an isolated thing" and he was ready to move on.
The report also notes that Simkins previously had no disciplinary action taken against him during his employment with the RPD.
In fact, he has received numerous letters of commendation for his work, according to documents obtained by the River News.
To serve the suspension, Simkins voluntarily gave up three floating holidays and one vacation day. He had the option of taking four days unpaid leave instead. He also declined to appeal the punishment to the police and fire commission, which was his right. By taking the suspension in the form he did, Simkins spared the department from incurring overtime for officers having to otherwise cover shifts in his absence, Lueneburg noted.
Simkins' union representative also agreed with the suspension.
Lueneburg referred to the matter as a minor "hiccup" in Simkin's otherwise stellar career and stressed that the department considers the matter closed.
He also stressed that he considers Simkins to be a valuable member of the department and an outstanding police officer.
"This officer has served the city and the department honorably for many years and will continue to serve honorably in the future," Lueneburg said.
He characterized the matter as a "policy infraction" that was addressed internally according to the rules of the department.
"I wouldn't want the public to think adversely of him or the department," Lueneburg added.
The incidents came to light after Mike Steffes left the RPD in late October to take a job with the Department of Justice. Lueneburg, who is the department's interim chief and has applied for the full-time position, said when it was brought to his attention, he felt the matter should be addressed immediately rather than wait for a new chief to be named in the spring.
"When issues like this come up it's important to correct behavior in a timely manner and not let it go on unaddressed," he said.
Lueneburg said giving officers a chance to take a few minutes to take a break from the rigors of their duties, while an unwritten rule, is an important safety concern.
"The people who may take this opportunity are very few and infrequent. Most of the officers did not do that," he said. "But the whole thought process behind that is when someone hits that down spot in their shift, and we're interested in safety, we don't want them getting in a vehicle accident or something. So if they need to take 15-20 minutes to come in and regroup, and just get centered again, I'm OK with that."
Simkins declined to comment for this article.
Jamie Taylor may be reached at email@example.com.
Posted: Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Article comment by:
Enquirer of the Northwoods. All these gossipy articles about local government always start with “according to records obtained by the River News through an open records request.” It appears the main talent of these “reporters” is to seek out gossip. The River News articles are one hatchet job after another. No wonder they obsess with government “transparency and openness”. Without open records, they would have to find newsworthy topics that matter.
Posted: Saturday, March 11, 2017
Article comment by:
I worked as a patrolman and retired with 32 yrs and in those years I got to know the character of Ron Lueneburg and I feel that there are some assumptions being presented here that should not be associated with this commentary. Please address the issue of public vs. private disclosure but don't publicly critisize the intent of Lueneburg based on heresay, assumptions or opinions supported by emotions. Some of the implications presented in the comments were not justifiable and there presents can do unnecessary harm where its not needed or unnecessary. I don't think it would be appropriate to give Ron an accidental black eye when its a time when appearance is important. Do You? Backing your fellow officer focuses only on appropriate safety and insurance so everyone goes home at night to be with the family.
Food for thought
Posted: Thursday, March 9, 2017
Article comment by:
I have to agree with the others that these matters should have been kept as internal matters- not that people couldn't know about them, but the paper should not have written about them. It creates community discord, and now Jake Simkins is going to get a bad reputation when in all actuality he's a great police officer. All news does not have to be reported on, and I think it's shameful that the whole world now knows about something that should have remained private.
Posted: Friday, March 3, 2017
Article comment by:
The internal discipline for the police dept should remain internal. I think it is creating gossip that is demoralizing not only to the dept, but to the city. I am disappointed that the paper felt it needed to publish this.
Posted: Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Article comment by:
I agree with Lacy Santilli's opinion that this should have remained an internal matter, not something that should've made the front page of the paper of the very community this officer serves. Why would the person that released this to the paper want to jeopardize the integrity of not only the department, but of him or herself (because whoever did release it, most likely has little integrity)?
What I took from the article is that Officer Simkins honorably took his punishment and instead of shorting the department of staff, used floating holidays and a vacation day to fulfill his suspension. My assumption is that for someone who has received numerous letters of commendation, there's maybe someone (or more) out for him. Many, many work places are like this. And for him to give up Sergeant, there may be any number of things going on. From someone (or more) out for him to perhaps some serious personal problems. At any rate... is there any good reason why the public is hearing about a minor infraction within the department? An infraction that any one of your readers is capable of making in their own workplace.
It's a horrible shame. And to officer Simkins, God Bless you and thank you for serving our community and for your honor!
Posted: Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Article comment by:
It is a shame the control media has, especially when all of the circumstances and facts are not considered. The recent article about the RPD served no purpose and shouldn't have made it to the front page of the newspaper. The whole purpose of the open records law is to make sure local government is handling internal matters appropriately. This was handled, albiet not fairly or appropriately but handled non the less. To put it in the paper is useless and morally wrong. Do we forget what it takes to be a Police Officer and keep our community safe. Do you go into work each day wondering if you will get to go home and see your family again? You would think having each other's back is part of police officer instinct. Along the lines of having each other's back, some of the highest level of ranking should also have their officers back. Currently the RPD is hiring for a Chief of Police and Lueneburg is serving as interim Chief. Do we really want a police chief who doesn't have the backs of his officer's? What happens if they have to use deadly force let alone a policy violation that was due to a personal matter. This whole article makes one think of the actions that were taken against the officer were necessary or if it was used for campaigning for the Chief position. Lueneburg was clear in the article when he stated, "I wouldn't want the public to think adversely of him or the department". Too late Lueneburg, you already made a mess out of an investigation that could have been handled by a one on one meeting and learning why the officer was doing what he was doing. Also mentioned in his article is the following, " This officer has served the city and the department honorably for many years and will continue to serve honorably in the future". I want the public to remember this about the officer in the article, because when reading the article one may forget the purpose of it. Let that one sentence be the purpose of this article. In conclusion, this matter wasn't handled appropriately and shouldn't have made the front of the newspapers. Are these the kinds of unnecessary articles the public and officer's can look forward to if Lueneburg is hired as Police Chief?
The Northwoods River News | Walker Communications, LLC 232 S. Courtney Street, Rhinelander, WI 54501 | Office (715) 365-6397 | Fax (715) 365-6361
Corporate billing office: The Lakeland Times / Lakeland Printing Inc. | P.O. Box 790, Minocqua, WI 54548 | (715) 356-5236 | Fax (715) 358-2121 Members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Community Papers, Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce, Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce