A long-serving officer in the Tuscaloosa Police Department says it "operates off of institutional racism, nepotism, fraternization and a flawed promotion system" in a letter provided to the Tuscaloosa Thread this month.

The full document will not be published here because it is six pages long, it mentions several high-ranking TPD officials by name, it makes allegations that have not been independently verified and includes some offensive language.

The Thread has, however, confirmed the author is a Tuscaloosa Police officer who said they wanted to share a hypothesis about why the department is chronically understaffed - a recent theme for TPD, especially this year, has been its inability to recruit and retain officers.

READ MORE - Tuscaloosa Police Chief on Officer Shortage: "I am in crisis right now."

For those who are unfamiliar with the police shortage, Mayor Walt Maddox has referred to the issue as a beast with many heads.

Some examples: the nearby University of Alabama Police Department offers markedly better pay than TPD. Members of the city's police and fire departments are not currently enrolled in the coveted Retirement Systems of Alabama pension plan, although the city council has pledged to fix that this decade. TPD officers are often made to work overtime shifts to provide increased security on weekends and during Alabama athletic events and concerts at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater.

Those challenges and more have left TPD operating for years with dozens of vacant positions and countless shifts that still have to be covered by already overworked officers.

This year alone, the crisis has led to a handful of stopgap measures including approving cash signing bonuses, a separate $10,000 retention bonus for every member of the force, a new take-home vehicle policy and a moratorium on allowing any new bars to open through at least the end of 2023.

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The letter's author said they want to speak out anonymously to address several other "heads of the beast" and spark conversation about long-term improvements at TPD.

The whistleblower called the search to replace former chief Steve Anderson, who resigned in 2019, "nothing more than pretense" and accuses mayor Walt Maddox of "staging" an assessment process before hiring then-Lieutenant Brent Blankley to lead the department.

(Stephen Dethrage, Townsquare Media)
(Stephen Dethrage, Townsquare Media)
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The letter's author alleges that Blankley "immediately began to flush out Black leadership and disband divisions that Black officers were interested and proficient in working," including ending TPD's juvenile division, which "was an especially important asset to the Black community."

They also say the department overwhelmingly hires and promotes white officers at a rate out of line with the city's demographics - at the time of TPD's 2022 Annual Report they employed 260 sworn officers and 52 were Black. That represents 20 percent of the police force.

200 officers - 77 percent of the force - were white.

"In Chief Blankley's first 36 months as the department leader, 32 white officers and 3 Black officers were promoted," the author wrote. "One of the 3 Black Officers was promoted because a white officer got into trouble off-duty and had to be demoted. Some white officers were promoted twice within the 36-month period."

"The numbers have been aligned so that all promotions going forward will more than likely be filled by white officers, eventually fading out Black leadership in the Tuscaloosa Police Department." the officer wrote. "Officers' dreams of rising higher in the Tuscaloosa Police Department are often shattered way before the promotion process gets started."

This alleged nepotism is as big an obstacle to hiring and keeping officers as any other "head of the beast," the officer claims.

"When talking along the lines of retention the "Good Ole Boy System" is the problem! Not the money!" they wrote.

The officer called for a review of and potential change in leadership at the highest level of the department.

"Mayor Walt Maddox needs to restructure the current leadership of the Tuscaloosa Police Department if he wants to see the department progress for better," the author said. "Black officers with the Tuscaloosa Police Department are not asking for Black or White, Democrat or Republican. They are simply asking for diversity and fairness. It is 2023, and the Tuscaloosa Police Department is still segregated and riddled with racism."

The letter's author also said they would have more to say in the future and hoped to serve as a platform for others who are not satisfied with the culture that exists at TPD.

NAACP PLEDGES TO INVESTIGATE

Lisa Young, the President of the Tuscaloosa County Branch of the NAACP, said their organization also received a copy of the letter and is committed to investigating the allegations within.

"The letter we received has raised deeply concerning allegations of racial discrimination in the hiring and promotion processes within the Tuscaloosa Police Department and the City of Tuscaloosa. As an organization dedicated to promoting civil rights, social justice, and equality, we cannot and will not turn a blind eye to such allegations," Young wrote in a press release. "We firmly believe in the principles of transparency, accountability, and due process. Therefore, we look forward to sitting down with the leadership of the City of Tuscaloosa to discuss these allegations, seek answers, and ensure a thorough and impartial investigation takes place. Our goal is to understand the situation fully and work towards resolution and justice."

"Our commitment to the residents of Tuscaloosa County remains unwavering. We will continue to advocate for fair and equitable hiring and promotion practices within the Tuscaloosa Police Department and the City of Tuscaloosa. We believe in the power of dialogue and collaboration to address the systemic issues that have plagued our society for far too long," Young wrote. "The Tuscaloosa County Branch NAACP calls on the City of Tuscaloosa and the Tuscaloosa Police Department to take these allegations seriously and demonstrate a commitment to addressing any instances of racial discrimination and inequality within their hiring and promotion processes. We are ready and willing to work together to ensure that justice and fairness prevail. It is only through open and honest dialogue, accountability, and collaborative efforts that we can build a community that respects the rights and dignity of all its members. We will keep our community informed of our progress in addressing these concerns as we move forward."

TPD GIVES SHORT REPLY

Stephanie Taylor, a spokesperson for the Tuscaloosa Police Department said they would not address the letter's claims in the public forum.

"Our focus is keeping our citizens safe," Taylor said. "TPD does not respond to baseless allegations, especially when using racist terms."

(An editor's note: a section of the full letter referred to a senior leader at TPD with a label containing a slur, which was not re-published here.)

"Fairness and equity matter, which is why we do not tolerate harassment and have policies and procedures in place to fully investigate any complaints," she added.

For updates on these claims, the NAACP's next steps and other local breaking news, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.

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Gallery Credit: (Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)