Kent Assistant Police Chief Derek Kammerzell is either callously ignorant of history, a liar or worse. Whatever the case, his actions have irrevocably broken the trust that effective law enforcement demands. He needs to go.
That this decision is now up to Kammerzell himself is an indictment of city leaders’ lack of resolve and of a system that shields police from accountability, even in cases of serious misconduct.
An investigation found that Kammerzell posted a Nazi rank insignia outside his office door, joked about the Holocaust and had shown a photo of himself wearing lederhosen while sporting a “Hitler mustache.”
The 27-year department veteran claimed he did not know the significance of the insignia and that it was a reference to the TV show “The Man in the High Castle.” This is a ludicrous assertion to anyone who has seen the series, which depicts an alternate history where Nazi Germany won World War II.
Still, even though investigators determined Kammerzell’s explanations were not credible, officials issued only a two-week suspension and cultural sensitivity training for violating policy on harassment and discrimination and for unbecoming conduct.
A public firestorm erupted after citizens group No Secret Police shared the results of the investigation with Times reporter Mike Carter, including Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla’s assertion that he would not sustain the allegation of “untruthfulness,” which would have been a reason for termination.
Kent Mayor Dana Ralph said city officials were concerned that firing Kammerzell would be overturned and that they were left with a difficult choice: suspension or going to arbitration and risk him returning to duty with no punishment.
Ralph recognizes they misjudged their response.
“The decision was made based on sound legal advice, and that was the path that we took, but it’s clear that more was necessary,” she told the editorial board. “Our community is hurting and our trust has been damaged.”
Ralph and Padilla should have acted decisively and made clear that Kammerzell’s actions were intolerable, but it is also all too likely their fears would have been proven right. Examples abound of law enforcement officers who are fired over wrongdoing and are nevertheless reinstated thanks to union contracts — a perversion of worker protections that remains unaddressed.
Officials are looking at their options, and Kammerzell has been asked to resign.
“I have no reason to believe that we will not come to a resolution,” Ralph said. “I want to assure the public that he will not be coming back to work.”
Kammerzell has lost the community’s confidence. He can no longer do his job, but he can do the right thing and resign.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.