Police Chief's Vegas training trip spending questioned

Questions are swirling about an area police chief's recent out-of-town spending.The concerns are regarding an eight-day training conference in Las Vegas taken by Pearl River Police Chief J.J. Jennings.

PEARL RIVER-  Questions are swirling about an area police chief's recent out-of-town spending.

The concerns are regarding an eight-day training conference in Las Vegas taken by Pearl River Police Chief J.J. Jennings. There's an internal audit investigation underway into the issue, in which we're told Jennings is cooperating fully. 

When the Town of Pearl River was hit with a lawsuit from a fired police officer in April, leaders suggested Jennings take a training course called "Confronting Toxic Officers and Making Discipline Stick."

The course is hosted across the country, throughout the year, by the Dolan Consulting Group.  Jennings originally signed up for the two-day class scheduled for June in Georgia, but a family matter lead to him having to cancel it. 

Jennings then signed up for that class, and a two-day Community Relations course, at a September conference in Las Vegas, both approved by the town.  While there, he stayed at Circus, Circus Hotel, rented a Lincoln MKZ and spent $75 a day of per diem for seven days.  Per town procedure, he paid for it all on his personal credit card.  His wife also came along for the trip, though Jennings covered the cost of her flight.

But when the invoices for reimbursement of more than $2,000 were double-checked during a recent internal audit, some red flags came up.

"It's just a lot of things that don't add up that are concerning," said Alderwoman Bridget Bennett, "I feel like this might possibly have been somewhat of a Las Vegas vacation and now we're getting a lot of inaccurate information back."

According to Bennett, some of the inconsistencies include why Jennings flew in on Saturday when the conference started Monday, his transportation choices and why there were two submissions, that resulted in two payments, for the same airline ticket.

"They have the right to ask and I'm transparent," Jennings said. "Anything in the P.D. doesn't belong to me. It belongs to the public. Any time they want information, come see me and we'll get it out there to exactly what they need to see."

Jennings says that's exactly what he's done in this case.

He says the airline ticket was a clerical error discovered by his secretary. He says that second check was never cashed because of the find.  He also claims the Saturday flight was cheaper than the Sunday one and that he didn't charge per diem for that day.  Jennings says he was diligent in being as cost-efficient as possible with all spending relative to the trip.

The assistant town attorney, conducting the investigation into the matter, says he sent a letter to Jennings Monday asking for additional documentation and reimbursement of one item, though he wouldn't elaborate what that item was.  He says Jennings has provided verbal explanations for the discrepancies found in the audit, but until the documentation is officially submitted, the probe and request remain pending.

While Bennett says she supports training for officers, she hopes this situation results in a change regarding training trip spending.

"I just want to make sure that whatever the outcome of this is, that it is done properly and that if we're owed reimbursement that the taxpayers get that," she said.

At the same time, Jennings is calling on a review of the town's checks and balances for reimbursements and asking for a police department credit card, something he says many other police chiefs, elected like he is and appointed, have that he doesn't.

"Everything is going onto my card to be reimbursed. This could have been totally stopped, anything at all, if one bill is going in at the end of the month with all the receipts and statements. That's the easiest thing to do," Jennings said.

Eyewitness News has learned the "Toxic Officer" class is being offered in Gonzales next month, but the company hosting the class tells Eyewitness News it was not scheduled when Jennings booked the Vegas classes.

© 2017 WWL-TV


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