May 9, 2017
North Providence Acting Police Chief Christopher Pelagio has led a charmed life. He leap-frogged over three captains and was appointed by Mayor Charles Lombardi as acting deputy chief in 2011. In 2015, he collected a $105,000 salary, plus close to $11,000 in overtime since he is a member of the union. In that same year, he appeared before the Town Council and demanded a $10,000 raise or he would retire. "You want to pay peanuts, you get monkeys," he told the councilors who acquiesced.
His pal, Charles Davey, took the captain's test and was promoted three weeks later. Just three months after that, Davey became deputy chief. Both men are at the heart of the lewd remarks scandal directed at Lt. Diana Perez, which were the subject of an investigation done by attorney Marc DeSisto. Now, their leadership is called into question as a result of the investigative study done by The Providence Journal (April 30, 2017). Reporter Jacqueline Tempera found that at least 100 items, including a handgun, six green pills, crack cocaine, a ring, two necklaces, and a computer laptop are missing or misplaced. Despite standards of chain-of-command custody mandated by accrediting agencies, North Providence has been in serious default for quite some time, including during all of the tenure of the present "acting" chief and deputy chief. Lost evidence can torpedo otherwise good prosecutions.
It isn't like the brass at the police department of North Providence had no warnings. In 2011, Capt. Joseph Sanita, who had helped himself to a video-console from the evidence room, pleaded guilty. The attorney general's office asked North Providence to do an audit. Lt. Perez herself filed a complaint with Mayor Lombardi, who is the public safety director, as to narcotics being missing in the evidence room.
Excuses abounded as to why procedures were not tightened up. The acting deputy chief, Davey, showed his "deep" understanding of the problem of missing evidence by stating that while crack cocaine buys are missing, it was "a very small amount." Only when the Journal became involved has Lombardi issued an edict that the audit of evidence has to be finished by May 26, 2017. "I don't want to hear it. I'm done," said the mayor.
This apathy would be bad enough were it not for the fall from grace experienced by this department with the loss of the Accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. I was so proud of the North Providence Police Department when it secured the "gold standard" of ratings in 1984, since it was the first such department in the Northeast to do so. It lapsed, apparently, with the procedures that won them the coveted certification.
The evidence room debacle should also be a warning to other cities and towns to re-check the evidence storage protocols. This just can't be happening only in North Providence. Some months ago, a Providence police officer pleaded guilty to stealing cash and items from the Providence Police evidence room.
As for the leadership of the "actings" in North Providence, I have to wonder whether the problem would have been solved long before now if only they had ceased their obsession with Lt. Perez' backside.
Violet is an attorney and former state attorney general.