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U.S. probe of Warren cops reflects poorly on the chief



Published: Sat, April 9, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



There are literally hundreds of law enforcement agencies in the United States, but only a handful have the distinction of having been investigated by the U.S. Justice Department. Thus, when officials of the city of Warren attempt to put a positive spin on last week's visit by department officials and two police chiefs serving as consultants, we wonder if they understand the seriousness of the situation.

The investigation not only reflects poorly on the police department and its chief, John Mandopoulos, but is a black eye for the community. The annals of the federal government will forever contain a reference to the city of Warren and the illegal strip searches conducted by police. Mayor Michael O'Brien and his safety-service director, Doug Franklin, certainly can't be happy about that.

Indeed, since O'Brien and Franklin inherited this dysfunctional department from former Mayor Hank Angelo, they should have initiated a major shake-up. The fact that the mayor did not pursue the removal of Chief Mandopoulos means that a new beginning for the department is impossible.

But given that two of the federal government investigators are police chiefs, O'Brien and Franklin should ask them to evaluate Mandopoulos' tenure as the city's top cop. Is it common practice nationally for police officers to conduct illegal strip searches of suspects? Are illegal body cavity searches standard operating procedure? Is it acceptable for a chief to mug for a surveillance camera while his sidekick uses a racial slur? And what about officers who confiscate drivers licenses from motorists without justification, or who are caught on videotape manhandling citizens?

Not a partnership

Last December, when the Justice Department expressed an interest in the operation of the Warren Police Department, we tried to disabuse local officials of the notion that the investigation actually was a partnership between the federal and city governments. We made it clear in an editorial that while the Justice Department's attention has the potential of bringing about improvements in the police department, there should no question as to who's calling the shots.

There is nothing that occurred last week during the three-day visit that leads us to any other conclusion. The investigators talked to a lot people and even spent two hours with Fred Harris, who was the city's safety-service director in the Angelo administration. Harris said the majority of questions dealt with strip-search allegations.

He told The Vindicator that he made it clear to the feds that when the first internal affairs complaint showed that the officers illegally strip searched a man, Chief Mandopoulos exonerated the officers.

"I refused to accept his decision," Harris said of the chief. "I sent it back to him."

It's a safe bet that Harris' opinion of Mandopoulos -- their verbal battles were widely publicized -- was presented to the Justice Department officials without sugar coating.

Thus, any attempt by O'Brien and Franklin to make excuses for Mandopoulos will be met with skepticism. That is why they should urge Chief Joseph Michael Polisar of Garden Grove, Calif., and Chief William B. Berger of Palm Bay Police Department to conduct an objective evaluation of the man we believe has overstayed his welcome.




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