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WARREN Police, safety director clash



Published: Sat, January 5, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The director said he thinks a few officers have problems with him because he is black.

By PEGGY SINKOVICH

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- Police Chief John Mandopoulos said he doesn't care if Fred Harris, the city's safety-service director, wants to watch police officers make arrests but Harris must learn not to distract officers.

Mandopoulos said several of his officers have complained that Harris appears at crime scenes and distracts them.

"It becomes an officer safety issue," Mandopoulos said. "An officer needs to stay focused on what is going on and doesn't need to be distracted by the director."

The chief said he would like to meet with the director and mayor and discuss the officers' concerns.

His side: Harris said he is not interfering; he is only watching to make sure arrests are being handled properly. He said he thinks a few officers have problems with him because he is black.

"There are some officers that don't like the fact that a black man has a position of authority," Harris said. "Safety is in the title of my job. I go to watch to make sure that things are being done right. I'm not bothering anyone."

Harris and Mayor Hank Angelo noted that the U.S. Justice Department met with city officials earlier this year about concerns on how police officers are treating minorities.

"By Fred being there it can help the police officers because if someone files a complaint and Fred happened to witness the arrest and knows that everything was handled right, he can say that," Angelo said.

The mayor doesn't think Harris has done anything wrong.

However, Sgt. Bill Boldin wrote a memo to the chief about Harris' actions during a Dec. 17 traffic crash.

The report states that when Boldin arrived at the scene on North Park he saw Harris and several people near a woman involved in the accident.

Boldin reported that he asked several people to leave but didn't say anything to Harris because he knew Harris is a friend of the woman's.

Taking notes: Boldin noted that while he was directing traffic he saw a witness speaking to Harris and Harris taking notes. Boldin then went up to the witness to get information and the witness said he had already given Harris the information.

When Boldin asked Harris for the information the director told him that he had given the information to the woman's brother, who had already left.

"I told him that his actions were improper, that he was obstructing official business and that he should leave," Boldin's report states.

"He responded by stating something about drug houses and that he was the director. He was again told he was obstructing and that he could be arrested for that. He stormed away, yelling threats about my job and that I would be dealt with."

Harris said he did not take information about the crash. He said the witness was giving him information about drug houses.

"I am the director of public safety, and I work for the public," Harris said. "I was talking to a citizen."

Harris said he talked to the chief about the matter and was told that it would be dealt with.

Mandopoulos declined to comment about the episode.

sinkovich@vindy.com




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