"Bandits in Blue" fueled Crime Wave?
Troubled Madison Police Force Facing Crisis Of Confidence
By JOSH KOVNER | Courant Staff Writer
February 17, 2008
MADISON [Connecticut] - The biggest problem facing the Madison Police Department isn't the dizzying list of brazen, on-duty crimes by officers, from burglaries to the electronic stalking of women to receiving oral sex from prostitutes to ripping off taxpayers through workers' compensation fraud.
The thorniest consequence, the one facing most crippled police departments, is this: The climate of corruption is so deeply seated that just removing the bad cops -- the painful process going on now with no clear end in sight -- may not by itself bring radical, permanent change.
"The 'rotten apple theory' is a farce,'' said Neal Trautman, who's been teaching police officers about moral dilemmas for 20 years through the National Institute of Ethics, which is based in Mississippi. "These problems are cultural, and they're created over a period of years. Just removing the bad apples is a way of the dodging the truth.''
Who's to blame in a situation like this?
"If a chief's been there a long time, then he owns part of it, and the police commission owns the rest,'' said Michael Buerger, a professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green University in Ohio and a former police officer.
The Madison police, with a $3 million yearly budget and a spacious $5 million station, serve a shoreline community with hardly any violent crime. But problems in the 22-member department, led by Chief Paul D. Jakubson for the past 10 years, have resulted in the recent firings of four officers. A fifth faces a termination hearing; one more is still under investigation.
Here's an example of the extent to which shoddy work and criminal behavior became part of the agency's culture:
Officer Joe Gambardella was confronted by local marina owner Bruce Beebe in June 2006 after an alarm was tripped at his business. Beebe ran out in his underwear to investigate why the alarm went off and encountered Gambardella in his cruiser, driving away -- after allegedly stealing equipment from Beebe's shed.
All Gambardella said to his sergeant, Tim Heiden, about the incident was that he had had a weird encounter with a guy in his underwear. Gambardella was later charged in that burglary, and in October 2006 he would be suspended when he was caught on videotape stealing lobsters from Lenny & Joe's Fish Tale.
"In hindsight, you'll always find something that could have or should have been a trigger,'' Jakubson said in an interview last week.
He said the same held true for the long-running misconduct attributed to another fired officer, Bernard Durgin, who was charged in October with making dozens of illegal computer queries dating back to February 2006. The names he ran included his ex-fiancee, her new boyfriend and 10 women he met in his second job as a security officer at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
Durgin's boyhood friend, convicted felon Albert LeClaire, would tell internal police investigators that he brought two prostitutes to Madison to service Durgin "30 to 40 times.'' Durgin was out on injury leave for 468 days between 2000 and 2006; he was later found to have worked on at least a dozen occasions at the hospital, beginning as early 2003, while getting disability pay from the police department.
The department began an investigation after Durgin, co-founder of the Poor Boyz Motorcycle Club, flashed his Madison badge last summer in front of New Haven officers in defense of a riding buddy, ex-felon Gerard McAfee, who was fighting with the officers. Durgin and his friends had been stopped for reckless driving -- on a night when Durgin had called in sick.
"No one suspects a police officer is a criminal. As soon as we heard even a rumor of misconduct we investigated,'' Jakubson said. "Yeah, I'm upset. It's upsetting to know that people think they can get away with this behavior. But I didn't foster any belief in the workplace that you could do this stuff and not face consequences. These are grown men and trained professionals. What caused these people to do this? I can't climb inside their heads.''
'How Much Did Those Hookers Cost?'
Trouble has come in waves for the Madison police. It has destroyed the public trust and has hampered officers on the job.
"How am I supposed to believe that when I need help and I call, that they're going to deal with the situation in an effective manner?'' said resident Charles O'Meara, a registered nurse who lives on Durham Road. "I mean, my friends from out of town are calling me up making jokes about our police department. 'Hey, how much did those hookers cost?' There's just no defending this conduct.''
The damage done by rogue officers has hurt the department in other ways. There's a telling passage in the internal affairs report about Officer Matthew Sterling, who was fired in January after he patronized strip clubs, massage parlors and a house of prostitution in Bridgeport that was under investigation by police there. The report refers to unrelated accusations of sexual misconduct in 2003 against a former Madison officer who had been running the Madison Police Explorers, a youth group.
"This officer engaged in sexual activity with a female explorer that he was entrusted to mentor. Due to these events, our agency additionally lost support regarding proposals to assign a school resource officer to the school system. Patrolman Matthew Sterling was allowed to take over [as adviser to the explorer's post] in an effort to rebuild the credibility and reputation of this agency,'' the report says.
Scandal has dogged the department since the early 1990s. Current and former town officials said in interviews over the last three weeks that the betrayal and disgust residents are feeling now is the legacy of ineffective chiefs and 25 years of cronyism on the police commission.
"Commissioners wanted to be pals with the cops, and some cops always got preferential treatment, sometimes because they had something on one chief or another,'' said Michael Haynes, former chairman of the Republican town committee. He quit the post in 1997 over a dispute about appointments to the police commission.
"Both parties in this town should have taken more care in who was appointed to that commission,'' Haynes said. "We're paying for it now.''
'Proud Of My Time Here'
Wrenching and costly appeals, lawsuits and medical claims are expected to follow the recent set of disciplinary hearings and internal probes. Counting the officers charged with corruption, those compelled to give statements against them and those doing the internal investigations, twothirds of the department has been consumed for much of the past year.
There's a crisis of confidence in Jakubson, who makes $96,000 under a contract with no time limits that was awarded by a prior police commission; he can serve as long as he is able.
During the past few years, as the alleged misconduct went on, Jakubson never varied his business travel schedule. Expense records show the chief faithfully kept to a yearly slate of conferences, training workshops and business meetings outside the department from 1998 to 2008. He collected $28,000 in reimbursements for food, travel, fees and other related costs during that time.
Sources told The Courant that Jakubson was told, as far back as 2002, about problems with production on the midnight shift, with officers doing little or no work. These were some of the same officers who would be ensnared by the corruption probe and charged with criminal offenses four and five years later.
When Madison residents sent Jakubson a message recently by delaying action on an $84,000 payment he's scheduled to receive from a heart and hypertension claim, the action received wide publicity. But he is also pursuing a claim for a neck and cervical spine injury that he sustained Dec. 3, 2004 -- when he was flipped by another officer during prisoner-restraint training.
A doctor examined him and determined that he had a 42 percent disability in the neck and spine -- a rating that translates to a workers' compensation payment of $911 per week.
The payment is being withheld while the town's insurance carrier disputes the disability rating. The amount of the award and the number of weeks that it includes have not yet been determined.
Jakubson said he filed the heart and hypertension claim in the late 1990s because he was entitled to it and said the neck injury is the only workers' compensation claim he has made in his 33-year career.
"I'm proud of my time here, and I'm proud of my accomplishments for this department and the town,'' said Jakubson, who is the president-elect of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association.
"In June, I'll have 34 years of service. I will remain here as long as it takes to get through these current issues and to get beyond them,'' Jakubson said.
"With the terminations and retirements, this department will have a fresh new look, and we're going to get into extensive retraining and a reaffirmation of management philosophies. That's where my focus is -- getting this straight and moving forward.''
'Legal, Moral And Practical'
Criminal justice experts contacted for this story were given a snapshot of the Madison situation. They were told the department has struggled to string together a few scandal-free years since the early 1990s; that the current chief was promoted from captain without a search, a job posting or any interviews of other candidates; that the appointed police commission is autonomous from the elected town leaders; and that some of the police misconduct that came to light between the fall of 2006 and the summer of 2007 had already been going on for three years or longer. The experts were asked whether a chief should be held accountable for officers who commit repeated, systematic transgressions.
"There's a doctrine called 'respondeat superior,' the notion that the department leaders -- the chief, the police commission -- are responsible to hire, train, supervise and properly correct the officers. That's why, in a lawsuit, chiefs and towns are named. It's a legal, moral and practical responsibility,'' said Buerger, the criminal justice professor at Bowling Green.
Robert Castelli, a professor of police science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and a former supervisor with the New York State Police, had difficulty swallowing the idea of a chief who was appointed without a job search or competing candidates.
Jakubson's appointment was arranged at an "emergency'' meeting of the police commission and immediately followed the sudden retirement of Chief James Jay Cameron.
A few years back, Castelli helped a small police department in Westchester County, N.Y., hire a new chief. The recruiting effort drew more than 130 applicants from as far away as Washington, California and Florida, which included police executives bristling with academic degrees and a New York City deputy chief with 5,000 people in his command.
"There's talent out there, and they want jobs like these. It's the responsibility of any police commission or town board to cast as wide a net as possible. The problem in the situation you're describing is that, at best, the question of whether they got the best candidate for chief will always linger," Castelli said. "And you'll never know.''
Madison First Selectman Al Goldberg is much more limited in his freedom to talk about the situation. He and other town officials have been told by lawyers that any statements they make that are viewed as "prejudicial'' could come back to haunt the town in lawsuits.
When Goldberg was asked if Jakubson should face negligence charges and a termination hearing, the former health care administrator, who was elected in November, said: "There has to be a change in the leadership structure.''
" 'Structure' is a politician's word. But all I have is my bully pulpit," Goldberg said. "Hiring and firing, by charter and state statute, is the purview of the police commission. The board of selectmen, the finance board and the voters have control of the budget; the police commission has control of the oversight, management and governance of the police department.
"I have told the police commission that we need to completely and convincingly finish these investigations, that there has to be that structural change in leadership and that the plan of corrective action has to involve public input and focus on the selection, hiring, training and supervision off officers. In other words, identify all the things that excellent police departments do. Without those three legs, the stool won't stand.''
The police commission, headed by businessman Emile Geisenheimer, has discussed paying for a study of the police force that is shaped, in part, by what the remaining officers see as the priorities. But the panel still has at least one more termination hearing to hold.
And something else is nagging town officials. There was a string of nighttime thefts of tools and power equipment from construction sites from 2002 to 2006. The thefts are unsolved, and there is a lingering question about whether they were thoroughly investigated, the officials said. The thefts stopped in the fall of 2006, when the latest scandal broke.
"We were hoping, with these hearings, that someone in the department would crack and name the person or persons responsible,'' said one official, who requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak about internal police matters.
"If that doesn't happen, then these investigations will not have uncovered all of the problems.''
Contact Josh Kovner at email@example.com
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