Fed up with feuding between Police Chief Thomas E. Fowler and the rank and file, Lancaster Supervisor Robert H. Giza threatened Wednesday to order an outside investigation of the department and its problems.
"I'm putting them on notice," Giza said of the two sides in the battle. "Either they get it straightened out or we're going to straighten it out for them. That's the bottom line."
Giza said he would give the combatants a "week or two" to work out their differences before intervening.
The supervisor's ultimatum came one day after a public session with Fowler, in which he defended himself against complaints by the union and others that he is vindictive and fosters fear among officers and even some in the community.
The session, attended by many officers, was mostly "venting," Giza said, and convinced him the situation was not improving.
"It was the straw that broke the camel's back," he said.
Fowler could not be reached to comment. But Gerald Gill, head of the Lancaster Police Benevolent Association, said the union would welcome an outside probe if was conducted by an agency such as the district attorney's office or by state auditors.
Councilman Mark A. Montour, an outspoken critic of Fowler's administration of the Police Department, also said he supports the call for an independent probe.
He noted that Fowler, who has been chief 20 years, already has agreed to such an investigation.
"We'd have to agree on an agency," Montour said. "It would have to be someone unbiased."
Giza said the Town Board might also try to lessen tensions by removing Fowler and Gill from labor negotiations.
Giza said he believes most of the department's infighting stems from contract talks. Replacing Fowler and Gill would allow "cooler heads to prevail," he said.
"They are very headstrong individuals," Giza said of Fowler and Gill.
But Gill questioned whether Giza has the authority to remove him from negotiations.
"I don't think I'm the problem," he said. "I'm prepared to be cooperative, but we're not going to be intimidated into obedience."
Montour also questioned whether ousting Gill and Fowler from labor talks would be a cure-all.
The problems predate the current negotiations and are rooted in Fowler's management style, he said.
"It's not a Tom-versus-Jerry thing," Montour said. "I don't think it's a contract problem; there's a morale problem in the department that existed before the labor negotiations."