Interim Montgomery police chief: Department morale is ‘coming back around’

Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 10:42 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - It’s been over a month now since Montgomery’s interim police chief, Ramona Harris, was sworn in, and she says there are lots of changes being made in the department.

“Sometimes change is necessary,” Harris said.

“Change is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it progresses us forward into the future,” she said.

It’s been nearly three months since Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed announced the resignation of former Police Chief Ernest Finley, saying it was in “the best interest of the men and women of the Montgomery Police Department, as well as the residents of Montgomery to make a change in leadership.”

Reed named Harris, a veteran law enforcement officer, as interim police chief while the search continues for someone to permanently fill the role.

In her first one-on-one interview with WSFA 12 News since being sworn in, Harris said the Montgomery Police Department is moving in a positive direction.

“Change is going to be different, but I see it being optimistic, upbeat and positive with the changes in command and also with just some inner departmental changes,” Harris said.

Harris’ position as interim chief comes just months after several current and former MPD officers voiced complaints to the City Council about leadership within the department, making allegations of bullying, retaliation and there being a hostile work environment.

Also, shortly after she assumed the role, the Alabama Ethics Commission found that Finley and Montgomery Police Department Chief of Operations Jennifer Reaves each committed a minor violation of the Alabama Ethics Act. The specific violations have not been made public.

When asked about the current internal environment within the department, Harris said, “As an issue of morale, the morale is coming back around for the department, and officers do understand, and supervisors, that I require accountability, but I also believe in fairness for everyone.”

Harris said gun violence in the city remains a top concern, but she said her team is identifying offenders and making arrests. She also said guns are being pulled off the street on a daily basis and investments are being made in technology to combat crime.

“Such as cameras, shot detection technology, ballistic intelligence technology,” Harris said.

So far, the city has seen 48 homicides this year. This same time last year, Montgomery had 43 homicides.

Harris said MPD is working daily with multiple federal agencies to combat the uptick in violent crime.

“We’re doing that collaborative joint detail working together with our other partners in law enforcement, whether it be state, federal or the district attorney’s office.”

Harris also said they have looked at reworking the way they operate to improve communication within the department. One example she gave was putting their criminal investigations unit under one roof.

“Within our patrol divisions we had investigative bureaus that were patrolling investigations, but now we’ve put them all together as a criminal investigative division. So now they are over there with the homicide detectives as well.”

Moving forward, Harris said her top three goals for the department include better retention and recruitment of officers, improving community outreach and engagement, and further boosting morale within the department.

“We are super excited. We’ve got an energized and charged department that is ready to go and work for it’s citizens of Montgomery,” Harris said. “We have the support of city hall and Mayor Reed’s been very supportive of the decisions that I’ve been able to make here.”

Harris added that officers meet with City Council members on a monthly basis to address certain “systemic issues” within the city.

“I just want the community to know that we are doing everything that we can,” Harris said.

Harris has expressed interest in permanently filling the role as chief. Reed has said that there is no exact timetable to find one.

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