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Police Chief Assailed In Vote by Va. Union

Falls Church police union officials Markus Bristol, left, and Scott Rhodes with a SigSauer P220 pistol. They said problems with the force's P220s have occurred since April.
Falls Church police union officials Markus Bristol, left, and Scott Rhodes with a SigSauer P220 pistol. They said problems with the force's P220s have occurred since April. (By Larry Morris -- The Washington Post)

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By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Falls Church police officers union has issued a vote of no confidence in Chief Robert T. Murray after growing increasingly concerned that officers' guns were defective and that criteria for job evaluations have not been established, union officials said.

Falls Church officers began having problems with their guns during training in April, and e-mails between officers and the manufacturer in May discussed difficulties with jams and malfunctions. Murray said he became aware of the problems in May or June, though officers are still using the guns.

The no-confidence vote is the latest clash between Murray and his officers. Last year, the union complained that commanders were requiring officers to meet a high quota for traffic tickets as a key part of their job evaluations and that failure to meet the quota could result in demotions or pay cuts.

Police officials have since relaxed their ticket-writing requirements, but officers haven't been told exactly how their performances will be evaluated, said Officer Scott Rhodes, president of the Falls Church Coalition of Police.

Murray said that he believes that he communicates well with the 31 officers and supervisors who police the 2.2-square-mile city and that he has updated officers on job criteria. Murray said he was not aware of last month's no-confidence vote until he was contacted by a reporter.

The union's vote was sparked by a perceived lack of communication over the department's service weapon, the .45-caliber SigSauer P220 pistol, introduced in January 2004. In April of this year, Rhodes said, officers began reporting that malfunctions had occurred during firearms training: Bullets were getting stuck upright in the chamber (called "stovepiping"); more than one bullet was being fed into the chamber; jams were locking the gun entirely; and the pistol was ejecting the magazine with rounds still in it

Also in April, a member of the Henrico County Police Department, outside Richmond, sent a telex to law enforcement agencies nationwide, asking whether anyone else was having problems with the P220. In July, Henrico dumped the P220.

On May 17, according to e-mails provided by the union, Officer Justin M. Cuomo of the Falls Church firearms training unit wrote to the regional sales manager of SigArms that officers "were forced to use a knife, screwdriver (or something similar) and extreme force to clear the weapon. . . . This poses an enormous safety risk." Cuomo noted that such problems had occurred at least five times.

Some weapons jams were attributed by the manufacturer to inexperienced shooters. "However, some of our SWAT-trained and experienced shooters are experiencing this on a recurring basis also," Cuomo wrote.

Murray said in an interview that he was not aware of problems with the officers' guns until he and a captain went for firearms training in May or June and the captain's gun jammed. Rhodes said that incident occurred after Henrico's telex and Cuomo's contact with SigArms.

"I asked, 'Are we having any other problems?' " Murray recalled. "Then, they thought possibly six other people were having problems. I asked the captain to get our reserve weapons out, and we replaced those."

Rhodes said officers, including himself, were given the same gun as a replacement -- the SigSauer P220. He said he has not had a chance to test-fire it.


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