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Doffing agrees to early retirement

Hastings Police Officer Rene Doffing has agreed to retire early.

The agreement, approved by the Hastings City Council Monday evening, states that Doffing will work in an administrative, or non-enforcement related, assignment until his retirement, Jan. 12, 2014. The retirement date is irrevocable.

The agreement follows an internal investigation of Doffing's conduct. On Dec. 14, Chief of Police Paul Schnell issued a letter to Doffing in regards to two previous incidents. The first was the November, 2010, incident in which Doffing was accused and charged with theft at the Hastings Green Mill restaurant. Doffing was observed taking a cork screw bottle opener and putting it in his pocket. He later returned it to restaurant staff. A jury trial found him not guilty of theft in July, 2012.

The Hastings Police Department's internal investigation showed that, even though there was no criminal action, Doffing's actions were in violation of department policy.

"Hastings Police Department Rules of Conduct requires peace officers, whether on or off duty, to refrain from any conduct which discredits themselves or their department," the letter reads. "The Rules of Conduct also require peace officers to refrain from conduct that detracts from the public's faith in the criminal justice system. 'The peace officer, as the public's initial contact with the criminal justice system, must act in a manner that instills such trust.' While you were eventually acquitted on the criminal charges, your conduct was twice subjected to a judicial determination of probable cause to believe that you committed a theft. First, at the time of charging and again following a Florence hearing....

"Your actions undermined public trust and brought discredit to you, our department, and our profession."

For violating the policy, Schnell imposed a 92-hour unpaid suspension.

A second incident was also addressed. On Dec. 8, 2011, Doffing drove by a school bus with its stop arm extended, stopping suddenly when the bus driver honked the horn. Doffing was on duty, but driving his personal vehicle during a lunch break. He was charged by the Burnsville City Attorney's Office with two counts of school bus stop arm violation, one a gross misdemeanor and one a misdemeanor. The court decision is still pending, but Schnell again cited the department's Rules of Conduct in regard to the incident, and imposed 32 hours of unpaid suspension.

The two incidents cited are not the only incidents on Doffing's record. Schnell listed ten separate incidents from 1994 through 2012, including the cork screw and school bus incidents, for which Doffing was disciplined. Disciplinary measures included verbal reprimands, letters of reprimand and a total of 51.5 days of suspension.

Disciplinary incidents are not the norm in the police department, according to the city. Typically, Schnell said, officers have either no disciplinary record or only a few incidents, such as failing to use a squad camera properly, or accidental damage to equipment, as in the case of an officer losing control and crashing a squad. Most incidents are not generally significant, he said.

"The majority of officers do not have disciplinary records," he said.

Financial impact

Within Doffing's early retirement agreement is a provision that grants Doffing a payout of 100 percent of his accrued sick pay. Under normal circumstances, an officer who has worked for the department more than 10 years would receive 50 percent of his or her accrued sick pay. Under the terms of the agreement, Doffing will receive an estimated $8,118 above what would normally be paid.

The 124 total hours of unpaid suspension has a value of $4,092. Between the additional payout cost for Doffing's early resignation and the $4,092 savings to the city in suspension time, the city will pay an estimated $4,026 to Doffing.

In signing the agreement, the city avoids potentially higher costs.

"Given that the settlement of the disciplinary matters was expected to involve protracted grievance and possible arbitration proceedings, the legal costs could have easily been more than three times the final (cash-out) cost," Schnell wrote in an agreement analysis submitted to the city administrator.

The city also considered opportunity costs and service provision in its decision. According to the background presented to the council, "effort and energy spent on issues takes the focus off the community's goals," and, "Effective delivery of City services is a matter of public trust. Disciplined and responsive police service is expected of police department employees."

By signing the agreement, Doffing waived his right to file a grievance or pursue any other action against the city relating to his resignation or administrative assignment. The agreement also exempts itself from setting precedent.