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Friday, December 10, 2010

Integrity Squad Disbanded

Pittsburgh's "Integrity Squad" Disbanded
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review by Bobby Kerlik - December 7, 2010

A decade ago, a $5 dollar bill left on a table in the Hill District police station could sit untouched for a week because officers feared it was an internal sting. Word had spread among Pittsburgh police officers that such tests were the work of then-Chief Robert W. McNeilly Jr.’s Office of Special Investigations, an internal affairs unit known as the “Integrity Squad.” “It helped weed out a lot of officers who shouldn’t be there,” McNeilly said. The small unit didn’t actually run such random integrity tests, acting more on tips from within officers’ ranks about dirty fellow cops. The arrests last month of city Officers Ken Simon and Anthony Scarpine on corruption charges reignited a debate about how effective the squads are. The city axed the squad about five years ago as part of budget cuts when the state declared Pittsburgh financially distressed under Act 47, according to Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson. The city had the civilian-run Office of Municipal Investigations, which investigates all city employees, including citizens’ complaints of police misconduct. “Currently, integrity checks are routinely undertaken, or they are triggered by an allegation or suspicion of police misconduct,” Donaldson said in a prepared statement. “The investigation is performed by OMI, or in some instances by the FBI. Our present methods are sufficient, and both agencies are thorough and professional.” A sergeant and five officers are assigned to OMI along with civilian investigators. McNeilly, who served as Pittsburgh chief from 1996-2006 and is the chief in Elizabeth Township, said the Integrity Squad was far more effective in combating corruption. “There were a lot of things the Integrity Squad was able to investigate that OMI couldn’t,” he said. McNeilly says pressure from the police union ultimately was responsible for the squad’s demise. Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 attorney Bryan Campbell denied the union had a hand in disbanding it, and union Vice President Chuck Hanlon blasted the idea of starting another one. “(Simon and Scarpine) haven’t even been convicted, and here we are again. We’re already cash-strapped and low on manpower. If you want (crime) to get out of control, keep stripping the streets of officers,” Hanlon said. “If you start an Integrity Squad, it’ll be guys sitting on their hands. There’s nothing wrong with the department.” Simon, 49, and Scarpine, 58, are accused of fabricating charges and wrongfully arresting two men during a July drug bust in the North Side. Prosecutors charged the officers after video surveillance contradicted the officers’ account of what happened, authorities said. Lawyers for the pair say the officers stand by the arrests. Larger departments such as those in New York, Los Angeles and New Orleans have integrity units that help deter corruption, experts said. “It’s a matter of resources. Obviously, departments cannot ignore the complaints of citizens, but to test how officers respond in certain situations costs money. Five or six detectives costs a few hundred thousand dollars a year,” said Maki Haberfield, a professor who specializes in police ethics at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “The pros are that it keeps officers on their toes, but on the other side, it’s sort of demoralizing. It’s effective if you have a department with extensive corruption.” Steve Rothlein, a retired deputy chief and 30-year veteran of Miami-Dade police who works as a police training consultant, oversaw an internal affairs unit in Miami that did targeted stings. “(Integrity units) can be effective in those departments that have a big problem,” Rothlein said. “But in most departments 99 percent of the officers are honest. Why run around and test honest officers?” Mona Wallace, who retired from Pittsburgh police last year, worked on McNeilly’s squad. She said 70 percent of the cases the squad worked came from other officers. “The rumor was that we did random integrity tests, but we never did that. The people we did test, there was a reason to do it,” Wallace said. Wallace said the squad was effective with its four or five investigators. “They knew we were out there and that we were proactive. Truthfully, if it made somebody think twice, it was effective.”

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