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Frauds flash fake badges: 'Deputy' perk out of control
By Ann E. Donlan
Boston Herald, Thursday, September 16, 2004

Hundreds of deputy sheriff badges have made it into civilian hands throughout Massachusetts with virtually no way for officials to know who has them, regulate their use or even get them back, a Herald review has found.

The problem has become so severe that many sheriffs have stopped the longtime perk of handing out badges to ``reserve'' or ``special'' deputies - a practice now banned in Suffolk, Essex, Plymouth and Bristol counties.

Sheriffs said there have been concerns about civilians with the honorary badges that carry no police powers flashing them to avoid parking and traffic tickets, improperly serve civil documents, or worse - using them to pull over vehicles or even to impersonate police officers.

But the practice of distributing the badges continues in Middlesex County, where a private, nonprofit association feeds a pool of reserve deputy nominees to Sheriff James V. DiPaola, who assists in performing criminal background checks and swearing in civilian reserve deputy sheriffs.

Yet DiPaola said, ``Nobody has police powers in Middlesex County that they're not qualified to have. Anybody can get a badge. It's like a gun.''

In Middlesex County, the Middlesex County Deputy Sheriffs' Association, a private, nonprofit group that does charitable community work, charges prospective members a $50 membership fee, according to President Michael M. Giacoppo. The group has 900 members.

DiPaola said the sheriff's department does a criminal background check for the applicant even though the association is ``completely independent (from) the sheriff.'' But Giacoppo said it is up to each member to provide a CORI arrest record.

``I suppose if the sheriff wanted to do a CORI, he could do a CORI, but we didn't ask him to,'' Giacoppo said.

The association then provides an identification card designating the holder as a reserve deputy sheriff, which the applicant takes to a police supply company to buy the badge, Giacoppo said.

``There are millions of badges out there that look like an official badge,'' DiPaola said. ``Every single person that is a member of that reserve association is investigated. People get refused all the time not to come into that association. We run a very, very strict organization. There is zero tolerance of any misuse.''

Former Public Safety Secretary Thomas Rapone called on the state's sheriffs in 1993 to end the practice of naming honorary or special sheriffs.

But Katie Ford, spokeswoman for current Secretary Edward M. Flynn, said, ``We really don't have jurisdiction over the sheriff's departments.''

Essex Sheriff Frank Cousins, who revoked civilian deputy sheriff commissions in 1996, said, ``It's very difficult to control. There's liability there.''

Suffolk Sheriff Andrea Cabral sent letters in 2002 to 65 then-badge holders asking them to surrender the shields.

``It's almost impossible to get people to turn them in,'' Cabral said. ``I don't know whether we received any from anyone. It's a challenge sometimes to track them down.''

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Anyone else see a problem with this?
 
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