Union: ‘Political stunt’ to hire police recruit allegedly caught selling drugs when younger

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence Fraternal Order of Police is calling the hiring of a police recruit “who had been previously investigated” for selling narcotics to undercover officers a “political stunt.”

A police report obtained by Target 12 from the Providence police records division indicates that when the now-30-year-old recruit was 19, he was allegedly caught on video selling “bags of suspected cocaine.”

The incident occurred in Sept. 2006 in the city’s Lockwood Plaza housing complex in what was said to be part of the High Point Initiative that included video-recording drug-related arrests across the city over a period of several months.

The FOP will send a letter to the administration outlining the union’s issues with the recruit and hiring process.

The 19-year old was one of more than 100 apprehensions involving young, suspected drug dealers. According to reports on WPRI at the time, the suspects were screened, with a group of seven not charged as a way to give them second chances.

The 19-year-old was in that group that came to be known as “the lucky seven” by city officials.

FOP President Sgt. Robert Boehm cited the police report, saying the recruit was video-recorded selling narcotics.

“The union was never informed nor did they participate or agree to any portion of this [Lockwood Initiative Program] that was presented by now retired Colonel Dean Esserman,” Boehm said.

Boehm said the FOP does not condone the hiring of the recruit, and also has concerns over the police recruit hiring practices.

“Our members feel that the city is manufacturing a political stunt for a ‘feel good’ story and a photo opportunity,” Boehm said.

Boehm said an “extremely large percentage of our membership” has expressed concerns over working with the recruit if he makes it through the six-month police academy, which started in February.

“Does he still have connections to the community he was allegedly dealing drugs in?” Boehm said. “How was he vetted? Did he keep his record clean [after the 2006 case]? These are questions we want answers to.”

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré would not talk about the individual recruit but did acknowledge that more than one have had “brushes with the law”.

The commissioner also said politics had nothing to do with the selection process, adding that he received no input from any Providence politicians, including Mayor Jorge Elorza.

Paré said he is proud of the fact that 71 percent of the academy recruits are minorities or women, and he emphasized the process to fill the academy was lengthy and included physical, psychological, written and oral testing.

Despite the potential controversy involving the union’s opposition, he is “absolutely confident about the quality of the current academy.”

“These are 60 of the top 2,100 that applied to be Providence police officers,” Paré said.

Boehm said the union also support diversity, but not at the expense of passing up more qualified recruits.

“Both recently and in the past, there have been applicants disqualified from the process for conduct less egregious than selling illegal controlled substances,” Boehm said.

Paré acknowledged that while he could’ve chosen recruits with spotless histories, and no brushes with the law, that is not the only consideration when choosing who should be part of the academy.

Boehm said a letter from the FOP will be sent to Paré, outlining the union’s issues with the 30-year old recruit in particular, and the department’s hiring process in general. But he said at this time there are no plans to ask for the recruit to be removed from the academy.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau