City Says Three Incidents Led to Police Chief’s Ouster

Former Police Chief Steve Bukala was asked to resign his post after an investigation determined he had violated police department policy and a section of the employee handbook, according to a disciplinary action report from City Manager Mike Burns.

Messages sent to Bukala for comment on this story were not returned.

The disciplinary action report, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, asserts that Bukala violated the following city policies:

  • Police Department Policy 1, Chapter 4 regarding behavior unbecoming of a police officer.
  • Police Department Policy 1, Chapter 4 regarding personal feelings influencing professional conduct.
  • Employee Handbook Section 2.8 regarding social media procedures.

In his report, Burns says these violations occurred during three incidents in May and June.

On May 11, Burns says he received a verbal complaint about a picture that was posted to Bukala’s personal Facebook page. He received a second complaint about the same issue via email on May 12. The photo in question showed Bukala outside a Home Depot store with a face mask on his elbow. The photo was removed but apparently not before it was seen by one of the department’s officers.

The complaints also said that Bukala had made statements on his personal page about not agreeing with Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Orders and his intention not to enforce them. The written complaint states, in part:

It is troubling to me that our Chief of Police seems to be displaying a pattern of picking and choosing which rules he follows….I can’t help but wonder what message this behavior sends to his officers.

In response to these complaints, Burns writes in his report that he counseled Bukala to be mindful of what he posts on social media.

On May 27, Bukala sent an email to a local resident who was trying to organize a car caravan for Lowell High School seniors. This individual was looking for assistance in diverting traffic to allow the caravan to proceed through town. Bukala’s reply noted that the Lowell Police Department could not stop traffic as it might be a violation of the current Executive Order. He said any caravan would have to yield to traffic lights, and Bowes Road might be a good route. He went on to say, “That takes you off Main Street and keeps the Gretchen Posse off my back and the city’s back.”

In his report, Burns wrote, “I later reminded him to be professional and that he could have easily responded to her as Governor Whitmer.”

The final incident occurred on June 2 when the Lowell Police Department posted the following update on its Facebook page.

Greetings. Just to inform the public we will have four open carry 2nd amendment citizens walking Main Street. They took the time to inform LPD that they’re coming out. They are well within their second amendment rights to do this. We are aware and no need to call us. We at the Lowell Police Department support the legally armed citizen and the second amendment.

According to the disciplinary report, Burns directed Bukala to post a notice about individuals openly carrying firearms in the city. However, he writes, “When I observed the last sentence of the statement it appeared to me this was taking a political position and possibly escalating rhetoric.”

Burns says he immediately went to Bukala’s office to say that the update as written would likely generate complaints. According to the report, Bukala responded, “This is a true statement.” About 10 minutes later, Mayor Mike DeVore called to say he had received four complaints about the update and wanted the last sentence deleted. The post was then edited to remove that line.

The disciplinary action report goes on to say, “We do not insert ourselves into political issues, whether directly or indirectly. Your rhetoric and actions on these three issues are unprofessional and reflect poorly on the City and the Department.” Although not related to these incidents, Burns also noted that he had suspended Bukala for 90 days in 2017 and ended by saying, “I do not have confidence in your ability to serve as the Chief of Police any longer.”

Burns ended his memo, dated June 4, by asking for Bukala to resign by 5pm that day. If he did not resign, his employment would be terminated at 5:01pm.

At 1:14pm on June 4, Bukala submitted his resignation to Burns and DeVore via email. It read, in part, “I have enjoyed my 27 year career as a Police Officer however, I have decided it is time for me to start my life outside of the Lowell Police Department and my future looks very bright.”

Bukala’s resignation was met with anger from some residents who say the former Police Chief is being punished for supporting the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution. Dozens of people marched through the downtown on Sunday afternoon in support of Bukala.

It is unclear whether Lowell City Council was consulted prior to the decision to request Bukala’s resignation, and an email sent to councilmembers for comment was not returned. Lowell’s First Look also reached out to Bukala for comment but did not receive a response.

The entire disciplinary action report can be view here.

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