The scandal involving Brooklyn South Narcotic officers arrested for allegedly stealing drugs and their mistreatment of confidential informants is dividing the ranks of the NYPD, with some seeking to understand just how a crew of dedicated officers could bend the rules they swore to uphold while others demanding they go to jail. As far as Im concerned, if theyre found guilty, then theyre criminals, said a cop at the 61st Precinct in Sheepshead Bay, speaking on the condition of anonymity. They dont deserve to wear the uniform because they are making the rest of us look bad. They are the two Brooklyn South detectives, sergeant and police officer who are all facing criminal charges for either skimming the drugs they seized in Coney Island and other parts of the borough, as well as paying confidential informants with drugs and cash they taken off of drug dealers upon their arrests. The charges stemming from the widespread investigation that began next September could threaten up to 500 drug cases that the officers had investigated over the last few years. It has also caused one of the largest NYPD shake-ups in Brooklyn since the attack on Abner Louima in Flatbushs 70th Precinct back in 1997. Last week, several members of Brooklyn Souths Narcotics Unit were transferred to other commands, including the units commanding officer. At least four of them were facing criminal charges. Officials allege that Detectives Sean Johnstone and Police Officer Julio Alvarez were taken into custody late last year for allegedly cooking the books on their own drug seizures. According to the complaint, the two officers raided a Coney Island drug dealers home on September 13, seizing over two dozen bags of cocaine. Detective Johnstone was caught on tape bragging that he and Alvarez had recovered 28 bags of cocaine but only claimed to have found 17 bags. Johnstone allegedly claimed that the missing drugs were used to pay off informers. According to published reports, his confession was by accident. He didnt know that the wire he was wearing was still taping when he confided in another officer about how he dealt with drug dealers and informers. But his loose lips sparked an Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) investigation that led to the arrests of Sergeant Michael Arenella and Police Officer Jerry Bowens, who were charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance, criminal sale of a controlled substance and official misconduct. The two were accused of giving an informant some of the drugs they seized during a bust as a reward. When IAB heard the allegations, they reportedly set up a sting operation where an operative pretended to be a drug dealer. The informant, who was reportedly in on the operation, led the two cops to the undercover and Arenella and Bowens arrested the would-be drug dealer. They then took $40 off the undercover officer and gave it to the informant. They also gave the informant some of the drugs they seized, according to police. Both cops have since been suspended without pay. Bowens is facing additional charges after allegations surfaced that he had sex with a crack-addicted confidential informant. While investigators do pay informants for their information, they cant simply hand them cash. Informants can only be paid after the investigators can fill out the proper request forms. Besides the four cops who have been arrested, six other narcotic officers have been suspended. Two other officers have been put on modified duty and the heads of the unit have reassigned. Since the scandal broke, the Kings County District Attorneys office has reportedly tossed 150 low-level drug cases the arrested officers have been responsible for. While the Narcotics units are responsible for hundreds of arrests in Brooklyn South each year, the teams receive their direction from 1 Police Plaza, not Patrol Brooklyn South, explained one borough cop, who explained that the officers mired in the scandal could have been victims of the clannish, tightly-knit structure that naturally comes with narcotics teams. In narcotics, the bosses boom down doors with you, said the officer, who also wished not to be named. That psychology of working together sometimes makes people feel more comfortable with their superiors. It lessons the fear about getting in trouble. This elevated comfort level makes it easier for the officers to bend the rules, and sometimes break them, the officer alleged. The cowboy behavior that some of these units revel in has not gone unnoticed. On Monday, Williamsburg Assemblymember Joe Lentol announced that he will begin a renewed push to demand more disclosure in how law enforcement uses and treats their confidential informants. Lentol put in a bill demanding such changes in 2006. In light of the new scandal, he believes its time that Albany takes another look at his bill. No one is trying to stop the practice of using confidential informants, Lentol said. However, we are trying to ensure that when they are used it is truly in the best interest of the community and that society is able to have some modicum of oversight and transparency. If made into law, Lentols bill would put some regulations in place, as well as compile annual statistics about how informants are used so judges, legislators and law enforcement have the tools and information they need to properly regulate this practice, he said. Because this practice is largely done behind closed doors with no one overseeing it, it is next to impossible to properly regulate it, he explained. My bill will collect the information we need to institute real reform and ensure that we are properly protecting all of the parties involved. I want to make sure that this practice is being used to protect the community. Lentol said that he will soon be holding public hearings on the issue of confidential informants so that we can begin to make sure that this practice is not injuring the integrity of the police or the social fabric of the community.
©2008 Community News Group
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