Chief: Drug testing key to stopping rogue cops

The Boston Hearld, bostonherald.com
BYLINE: Matt Stout -
Link to Article

Attleboro, MA

The police chief hunting for the “rogue cop” who swiped drugs from Attleboro Police Department’s evidence room said random drug testing could have prevented the theft — and he’s calling on Beacon Hill to help make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“The unions are going to step up and pressure them not to make any changes, but this is proof why we need it,” Attleboro Police Chief Kyle Heagney said of random drug testing, which under state law must be collectively bargained into police union contracts — meaning that many cops across the state operate free from fear of drug tests.

“I think we owe it to our citizens that police officers are drug tested,” Heagney said. “I’m appalled that we can’t without bargaining, which makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.”

Heagney vowed to punish those responsible when an August audit he ordered after taking command in Attleboro revealed cocaine and other narcotics missing, prompting him to hire an outside consultant to investigate. Heagney would not say what procedures existed before, but he said now just one officer has the key to the evidence locker, and anyone entering the room has to swipe an electronic ID card. He plans to install video surveillance.

But Heagney said he’s run into a “code of silence” in his search for those responsible, and experts said internal probes often stumble over poor evidence and resistant unions. Like Boston in 2006 and Dracut in 2003, when those departments had drug theft scandals, there have been no arrests in Attleboro yet.

Bills that would mandate random drug testing for public safety employees — taking it off the bargaining table — have come up several times on Beacon Hill, where they faced union opposition and languished. Public Safety Committee chairmen could not be reached yesterday.

Drug-testing is currently on the table in ongoing negotiations between Attleboro and its police union. Attorney Leigh Panettiere, who represents the Attleboro police union and other law enforcement unions, said the union isn’t against testing.

“Police officers don’t want to work in an environment where drug abuse is a problem,” Panettiere said. But she said the union and the city have been unable to agree to terms on how officers should be tested.

Panettiere declined to say what’s separated the two sides, but Heagney said it’s simple — money.

“If they agree to random drug testing, they would want a significant raise,” Heagney said. “We have to bargain that and it becomes cost prohibitive. If they’re not against it, then help us get the law changed.”

Northeastern University criminologist Edith Flynn said unsolved drug-theft cases destroy public trust. “The issue of trust is vital,” she said. “Once that’s lost, it’s not only embarrassing, it’s catastrophic.”

Alfred Donovan, head of APD Management whom the department hired to oversee its investigation, said none of the drugs missing in Attleboro were linked to open cases, meaning police there probably aren’t seeing cases overturned.

In Dracut, where $80,000 worth of marijuana was stolen from a police storage trailer in 2003, two officers were accused of being “intentionally deceptive” and served a one-month suspension in 2011. In 2006, Boston police uncovered the theft of drug evidence from hundreds of cases, but an investigation produced no arrests, said Boston police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll. The Boston Police Department added cameras to the evidence vault and a new electronic evidence tracking system.

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