New WVC police chief’s past job draws criticism

Posted at 9:49 PM, Aug 27, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-28 00:52:02-04

WEST VALLEY CITY -- As Lee Russo stepped into his new role as West Valley City’s police chief on Tuesday, he left behind a somewhat contentious job history in Kentucky.

“I’ve sailed some rough seas, I’ve stepped on some toes,” Russo said during a press conference at West Valley City Hall.

While Russo’s resume boasts almost two decades of police work in Baltimore County, Maryland, it’s his shorter stint in Covington, Ky. that’s drawn criticism in the past.

“There was a time in the center there where things were rough,” explained Lt. Brian Valenti of Covington Police. “At the beginning and at the end, they were a little bit more calm, we’ll say.”

According to Valenti, who worked for Russo during his nearly 5 ½ year tenure with the department, Russo had a rocky relationship with his officers.

“We have different trains of thought, different cultures in policing. Coming from the east coast, it’s a different culture in policing than what it is here in the Midwest, which is probably different than what it is out in Utah,” Valenti said.  “I think for us here, discipline wise, he was a little harsh.”

Valenti said that about two years before Russo resigned from the department, the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police weighed in on his performance. Not all of the approximately 115 members voted, but of those who did, about 94 percent said they had “no confidence” in him.

“There was a very short learning curve, I think, for him,” said Charles Vaughn, chief prosecutor for the Kenton County Attorney’s Office.

Vaughn contended that any issues between Russo and his staff did not affect his ability to run the department, or combat crime in the city.

“It never got to the degree that it interfered with the work product,” Vaughn said. “So, I never felt at any point that the investigations were suffering because of any issues that were going on internally at the police department.”

In fact, around the time of Russo’s departure, a report from the River City News in Convington quoted the city’s mayor as saying there had been a 25-percent reduction in major and violent crimes during Russo’s time as chief of police.

Regardless of his past, though, Russo promised Tuesday to help shape a positive future for West Valley City.

“I will work with the community and work with the police department, and we will be better and we will grow,” said Russo.