AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money.

When a private investigator goes snooping, a Ga. police chief resigns


Problems have grown so dire in the Hiram Police Department that City Council took the unusual step of hiring a private investigator to look into the Chief Todd Vande Zande's actions.

Now, with the inquiry nearing its end, the chief doesn't want the details of the investigator's findings aired in public. He has tendered his resignation hoping to "eliminate the council's need to discuss in any detail the findings of that investigation," according to a report by Channel 2 Action News.

Some officers say the department in the small city 27 miles northwest of Atlanta has been in turmoil since Vande Zande took over in 2013. More than half of the cops in the small 21-officer agency have left during his tenure. The council last week discussed the private investigator's findings in a closed-door executive session. Vande Zande tendered his resignation as the council was ready to approve additional funds to complete an investigation that has cost taxpayers nearly $10,000.

Perhaps, the whole episode could have been avoided had Hiram taken heed from Vande Zande's past experience. State records show he was fired from the Canton Police Department in August 2012, just eight months before Hiram hired him. He had been Canton's acting chief and was assistant chief at the time of his termination.

Channel 2 Action News reported that his Canton termination letter said the "lack of strong and effective leadership had a profound and negative impact on employee morale and performance."

Vande Zande declined Channel 2's request for an interview. In his resignation letter, he says he will step down effective April 16. Vande Zande has little regard for Jim Baker, the private investigator.

He dubbed Baker's report the opinions of someone who has little regard for ethics or integrity.

"I make no apologies for the decisions I've made as your chief," he said.

The private investigator's report is expected to be released publicly later this month.


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About the Author

Brad Schrade is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter on the AJC’s investigative team.