The Sun Chronicle, thesunchronicle.com
BYLINE: GEORGE W. RHODES SUN CHRONICLE STAFF
ATTLEBORO - A year-long probe into the theft of drugs from the police evidence locker came up empty, but an investigator slammed the department for poor security and record keeping that allowed the crime to occur - going so far as to call it "negligent."
"The advanced technology and security systems available ... (when the thefts occurred) makes the lax security and accountability surrounding the ... department's evidence room inexcusable," wrote Alfred P. Donovan, a former police chief and the investigator hired by the city to look into the thefts.
He also labeled the department "negligent."
The main security flaw was the department's failure to restore electronic surveillance of the evidence locker after it was disconnected in 2006 for construction work, Donovan said.
The thefts took place between 2006 and 2011, he said.
The drug thefts were discovered during an evidence audit ordered by then acting Chief Kyle Heagney after he took over the department in November 2010 on the retirement of former Chief Richard Pierce.
The audit was performed in August of 2011.
After the auditor concluded drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, oxycodone and methadone were missing, Heagney ordered a formal investigation.
None of the missing evidence was part of a court proceeding, and all of it had been marked for destruction.
Despite numerous interviews, as well as information from a "confidential source," Donovan said there was "insufficient evidence" to name or charge a suspect.
But he said the case should remain open in the event a witness comes forward or more evidence is discovered.
Heagney said he's disappointed the investigation didn't lead to a suspect or an arrest, but he's pleased that current members of the department were cleared by lie detector tests.
He said he's sure the thief is no longer employed by the department.
"It is unfortunate that the perpetrator could not be definitively identified. However, it is reassuring that those current members of the department who had key access to the evidence room were cleared and ruled out by the polygraph test," the chief said in an emailed statement.
"As the chief, I am confident when I say the person responsible for this theft is no longer a member of this police department."
Heagney said the department has been forthright about the thefts and subsequent investigation, which he called "a very embarrassing chapter in the department's history."
"Nevertheless, I steadfastly believe we demonstrated our transparency to the citizens and that we will police ourselves and more importantly hold ourselves accountable," he said. "After all, if the police do not police themselves, who will?"
A number of officers including Heagney took polygraph or lie detector tests during the investigation, and all passed.
Heagney took his voluntarily, the others were promised immunity for any potential crimes, which was their right under the law.
Two officers cleared by the tests who had supervisory responsibilities for the evidence room were relieved of those duties by Heagney because the thefts took place under their watch. Both were transferred to another division of the department.
The transfers occurred late in 2011, after the audit, as Heagney began to implement new and what he said are "clear and unambiguous written polices and procedures" as well as security measures.
Donovan's report, completed in September of last year, was released recently by Heagney as the result of a request under the Freedom of Information Act by The Sun Chronicle.
While the theft of drugs was bad enough, Donovan and the auditor concluded procedures for logging and filing evidence were woefully deficient.
Not only was evidence missing, but evidence that was supposed to be in certain boxes was found elsewhere.
Some evidence thought to be missing was eventually accounted for, including some drugs, but there was no explanation for other missing drugs which were stolen, apparently by slicing the bottom of plastic bags in which they were stored.
"Basic and important rules concerning the handling, storage and supervision of evidence were not followed and no other effective policies, procedures, rules or regulations were put in place to ensure the safe handling and storage of the evidence," Donovan wrote.
The most obvious security flaw was the failure of the department to restore a video monitor of the evidence room and an alarm that sounded in the dispatch area when someone entered it, he said.
The video and alarm were bypassed in 2006 because of construction and never restored, despite a standing order that it never be disconnected, Donovan said.
"Failure to comply with the directive in existence that required video surveillance and a door alarm alerting dispatch area personnel when the evidence room door is opened is the main reason the security and integrity of the evidence room was breached," Donovan said.
He also laid blame at the door of those in charge of the evidence room.
"Those responsible for the supervision and operation of the evidence room are directly responsible for the lack of secure operational procedures, security, accountability and organization in the evidence room," he said.
Heagney, who became chief in October of 2011, implemented new security measures for the evidence room that included a new lock, video surveillance, a key card system that logs user access and limits user access, the establishment of a user log and the establishment of a rule requiring a second officer to witness the placing or removal of evidence.
Donovan said the new controls are "sufficient to protect the integrity and security of the evidence room."
Mayor Kevin Dumas is also satisfied the efforts will prevent future thefts.
"I agree that there are now proper policies and procedures for the handling of evidence... and I do not see this occurring again in the future," he said in an emailed statement.
Heagney said the current contingent of officers won't let the city down.
"I am proud to work with my police officers. They are extremely ethical, and highly professional," he said. "They protect this city each and every day, even if it means giving the ultimate sacrifice; their lives. I respect them, trust them, and support them."
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