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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Five new members

By Scott J. Croteau TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
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It is a fallacy one or two people have so much experience in one field that they can't be replaced.


Police Chief Gary J. Gemme

WORCESTER- A sergeant and four police officers will be transferred to the vice squad by Monday, taking the place of five officers who are under investigation for allegedly fraudulently filing for overtime for appearances in criminal court.

Deputy Police Chief Mark S. Roche said the department had been reviewing how the vice squad operates even before five officers were transferred out of that division. One of the issues the department wanted to review is the best way to handle the open-air drug dealing in parts of the city.

After a meeting with Capt. Paul B. Saucier, the vice squad commander, the department is changing how the day shift of the vice squad works.

The five new squad members will join the five division members remaining on days and the group will handle the in-the-open drug dealing and prostitution.

Capt. Saucier said some of the day shift vice squad members were involved in long-term drug investigations and were unable to handle citizen and crime watch complaints about the open-air drug dealing and prostitution problems.

The new strategy will have the day shift handle these complaints.

"Their whole responsibility will be to take care of these complaints of open-air drug markets, which are basically geographic areas where people come to buy drugs and people are there to sell drugs," the captain said.

"That kind of market destroys a neighborhood more than anything else, because it brings in prostitution and it brings in crime - vandalism and graffiti," Capt. Saucier added.

Hot spots showing problem areas will also be identified through crime statistics and the review of complaints.

Although the new vice squad members and the remaining five will work days, their shifts will be flexible. If the drug dealing and prostitution problems occur at night, the group will be moved to different shifts.

If information gathered by officers shows a longer investigation is needed, that will be passed on to the experienced members of the night shift, said the captain, calling those mid- and high-level drug investigations.

The vice squad's night shift has 11 members - nine officers and two supervisors. Those officers can also move to other shifts to conduct their investigations.

The new members of the vice squad will gain drug investigation experience and learn more about the division. Deputy Chief Roche said the five new members were hand-picked and their police reports were reviewed.

The deputy chief and captain found these officers were very good at spotting street-level drug dealing while on patrol and made drug arrests. The transfers will come from four divisions and will not affect those divisions adversely, he said.

Some community leaders in Main South were concerned that drug investigations may have taken a hit when the vice squad members were transferred while they are under investigation. They are Lt. Timothy J. O'Connor; Sgt. Eric A. Boss; and Officers Paul W. Noone; James M. O'Rourke and Darnell McGee.

The two other officers transferred were Sgts. Michael J. Coakley and Faith A. Roche, who worked in the License Division. They, too, are under investigation.

"It is a fallacy one or two people have so much experience in one field that they can't be replaced," Police Chief Gary J. Gemme said yesterday. "This department is as healthy today as it was last week in terms of our ability to deal with crime and disorder in the community."

Deputy Chief Roche added, "We still have well over 100 years of experience with the officers remaining (in the vice squad)."

The chief noted that major investigations in the city involve several divisions and, in some cases, other law enforcement agencies were part of the busts.

The vice squad hit the Main South area hard at the beginning of the month and made more than 80 drug and prostitution arrests. On July 17 and 18, along with Monday and Tuesday of this week, the squad went back into Main South and made 25 arrests for prostitution and three drug arrests Tuesday.

"There are still people being arrested in Main South," Capt. Saucier said. "It didn't stop."

If any crime watch groups or city councilors have concerns about criminal activity in their neighborhoods, they are more than welcome to call the police so a meeting can be set up to deal with the issue, Chief Gemme said.

The seven vice squad officers who were transferred are under investigation after an audit of police overtime by a computer program red-flagged at least a half-dozen cases of abuse of court overtime procedures.

The audit found that schedules had been manipulated, vacation time used indiscriminately and, in some cases, the officers might not have even attended court. The audit was for Jan. 1 to June 30, and the total amount in question in the alleged double-dipping scheme is $80,000 to $100,000.

When asked yesterday why the seven officers were not placed on paid or unpaid administrative leave, Chief Gemme said, "It was an administrative decision to make transfers at this time. As the investigation unfolds, we'll take the appropriate action. At this time I believe the most appropriate action to stop the abuse was to make the transfers."

http://www.telegram.com/article/20080725/NEWS/807250576/1101
 

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Worcester Chief's goal; ethis, standards

Sunday, July 27, 2008 Top-down goal: ethics, standards

Dianne Williamson
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T&G STAFF



Police Chief Gary Gemme seemed genuinely dumbstruck when I remarked that not all of his cops were pleased that he transferred and placed under investigation seven officers who allegedly abused their overtime in court cases.

"If anyone in this department feels bad for officers who took advantage of their positions of authority for financial gain, then I feel bad for the kind of ethics they bring to their lives," the chief said. "I walk into this building every day with my head held high. If that's not acceptable, they can get a new police chief."

Less than four years after taking the helm as the city's top cop, it's become obvious - painfully, to some - that Gary Gemme is an intense guy. He means it when he says he doesn't need the job. He's serious about applying his own strict standards to the 450-member department, regardless of the fallout or criticism.

And if the past two weeks have been trying for the 54-year-old chief, he is largely unaffected.

"I knew there'd be good days and bad days, and I've had some bad ones," he said. "I've had to arrest and terminate police officers. Now we're dealing with another scandal, if you will. But being a police chief isn't a popularity contest."

Revelations of overtime abuse among several officers came on the heels of a front-page story last Sunday outlining this newspaper's difficulty in obtaining internal affairs records for another police officer who's been a target of citizen complaints. The story included criticism that a chief who vowed transparency - and has largely made good on that vow - was dragging his feet in allowing public access to police records.

In addition, his recent edict that bar owners who hire a detail police officer must hire them in pairs has rankled some officers who fear that the move will force bar owners to cut back on details altogether to save money.

The chief seems largely unmoved by complaints from the public or within his own ranks. Some consider it arrogance and a rigid worldview; those who know him best say he's motivated by the confidence that he's doing the right thing.

"He walks the walk," said Capt. Edward McGinn Jr. "You don't mind following a guy who's decisive, and he's a master chess player. He's five steps ahead of everybody. There is absolutely no doubt in his mind that he's doing the best thing for the department."

Of the chief's decision to transfer the seven officers and initiate a probe, Capt. McGinn said, "You can't defend the indefensible."

The WPD was alerted to the overtime abuse problem in a July 16 e-mail, when Chief Gemme issued a stern directive reminding officers of the city's sick leave and overtime policy. "As a result of technology changes that have been implemented by the city … we have found that some members of this department have been utilizing paid leave in order to take advantage of court and discretionary overtime opportunities," he wrote. "This practice is not allowed."

Shortly after came another e-mail and a list of seven veteran officers - five from the vice squad - who were abruptly transferred after years in their respective posts. The move sent shock waves among the ranks, with many defending their embattled colleagues and wondering who was next.

"These are hard-working, good guys," said an officer who asked not to be identified. "If the chief had a problem with what they were doing, why not issue a warning first, rather than disrupt their lives and their families? This came from out of the blue. I feel bad for them."

But since the magnitude of the alleged abuse has been outlined over the past few days, criticism from the ranks has been somewhat muted. Privately, officers acknowledge that it's not unheard of to occasionally take a vacation day to get overtime court pay. What's striking, so to speak, is the blatant abuse of the abuse.

For example, at least one officer manipulated his days off to reap overtime court pay to the tune of "several thousand dollars" over 10 days, the chief said. Another is under investigation for claiming pay when he wasn't in court at all. The overall abuse may have cost the taxpayers as much as $100,000 between January and June of this year, he said.

He said he learned of the fraudulent practice during a computer review of salaries and court overtime payments, an automated method unavailable until recently.

"I just wanted to make sure there were no red flags," the chief said. "Clearly, there were a number of red flags. When I dug into it, I was absolutely shocked. People were manipulating their schedules on a weekly basis to maximize their earnings. What I saw was outrageous. If anyone thinks I should have ignored that, then they have the problem. … There is no gray area here."

In October of 2004, Chief Gemme took the reins of a department once dubbed "dysfunction junction" by former Mayor Tim Murray. Since then, the dysfunction has been replaced by responsiveness to community concerns and a willingness to discipline errant cops, often publicly. He is quick to take responsibility for blunders and wrongdoing on his watch, including the lack of oversight in court overtime pay.

If he'd only turn over those internal affairs reports, we'd give the guy an A.

"I came into this job with my eyes wide open," he said. "Right now, I'm dealing with more challenges than I have in the past. But I'm going to be here for some time, unless I lose support. I'm committed to the city, and I'm committed to this department."

Contact Dianne Williamson via e-mail at [email protected].
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Investigated police sgt. resigns

Overtime claims called into question

By Scott J. Croteau TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
[email protected]

WORCESTER- One of the three police sergeants under investigation for allegedly fraudulently claiming overtime pay for time spent testifying in court cases has resigned.

City Manager Michael V. O'Brien confirmed yesterday that Sgt. Michael J. Coakley - a longtime member of the department - resigned. The city manager would not say when, but the Telegram & Gazette learned Sgt. Coakley tendered his resignation late last week.

"It's a personnel matter and I can't comment on the details," Mr. O'Brien said when asked whether the sergeant would still receive a city pension.

Sgt. Coakley was assigned to the License Division and was a supervisor of the Alcohol Enforcement Unit. As part of his assignments, the sergeant routinely attended city License Commission meetings in City Hall and testified in hearings concerning liquor establishments' liquor licenses.

Former Vice Squad Lt. Timothy J. O'Connor remains on paid administrative leave while he is under investigation. Sgts. Eric A. Boss and Faith A. Roche along with Officers James M. O'Rourke, Paul W. Noone and Darnell McGee are also under investigation and were transferred out of their units to other assignments. Police officials have declined to confirm the names of the seven officers or that they are the ones under investigation.

The alleged fraudulent court overtime claims were discovered during an audit of the Police Department's expenditures between Jan. 1 and June 30 of this year. The total amount in question is $80,000 to $100,000.

The officers are accused of manipulating schedules, abusing vacation time and what's been termed other "serious abuse" of court overtime procedures.

The amount of money each of the officers has received for court overtime is part of an internal investigation. Authorities have said the investigation will check the first six months of this year and could go back further if warranted.

According to city payroll records showing the top 250 wage earners for 2007, Sgt. Coakley was the eighth-highest-paid city employee taking home a salary of $162,179. The records show he made $14,431 in court overtime and was one of the higher court-overtime earners in 2007.

The highest court-overtime earner in 2007 was Lt. O'Connor, who made $22,813.

Officer O'Rourke made $14,954; Sgt. Boss made $17,490; Officer McGee made $13,829; and Officer Noone made $14,503. All of them were members of the Vice Squad and all high on the court overtime earner list for 2007. None of those earnings, however, are at issue in the current investigation.Sgt. Roche - who was in the Detective Bureau then the License Division before her transfer - did not receive any court overtime pay in 2007.

In earlier interviews, Police Chief Gary J. Gemme said the audit found "at least a half-dozen" cases of "very serious abuse" of court overtime procedures. He said the internal investigation only involves Jan. 1 to June 30 of this year, so far.

Through the audit, city authorities found seven of the department's top 10 recipients of court overtime pay were assigned to the day shift. All the officers under investigation came from the day shift.

In some cases, the officers were making as much as five times more in court overtime than officers who worked the night shift and who could earn more in overtime because court appearances would force them to come in on their off time.

Authorities are scrutinizing the payroll numbers. The audit discovered the officers allegedly manipulated the schedule and used vacation time indiscriminately to make more court overtime money.

There are also questions on whether some of the officers under investigation attended court at all in some cases where court overtime was claimed.

http://www.telegram.com/article/20080805/NEWS/808050671/1116
 
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