The scandal surrounding the Narcotic officers accused of allegedly stealing drugs from dealers and mistreating 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 demand 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 facing criminal charges for skimming drugs seized in Coney Island, Red Hook, Bay Ridge and the lower Slope as well as paying confidential informants with drugs and cash they took off the dealers they arrested. The charges stemming from the widespread investigation could threaten up to 500 drug cases the officers had investigated over the last few years, officials said. 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. I worked there and I didnt even know what was going on, Brooklyn South Narcotics Captain James Fulton told members of the 78th Precinct Community Council Tuesday, explaining that the investigation and the arrests were performed under the radar. I dont know where everyone is getting their information from. With some new faces working out of their base in Bay Ridge, Fulton said that Brooklyn South Narcotics was back to business as usual. Were looking to get the bad guys, he said, calling drug dealers the dredges of society. But apparently some other dredges of society were closer to home. 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 allegedly caught on tape bragging that he and Alvarez had recovered 28 bags of cocaine, but only reported that they had found seventeen bags. Johnstone allegedly claimed that the missing drugs were used to pay off informers. According to published reports, his confession was an accident. He reportedly didnt know that the wire he was wearing was still recording when he confided in another officer about how he dealt with drug dealers and informers. 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 operative. Arenella and Bowens arrested the would-be drug dealer, then allegedly took $40 off of him 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 had surfaced that he had sex with a crack-addicted confidential informant. While investigators do pay their informants, they cant simply hand them cash. Informants can only be paid after the investigators 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 been reassigned. Since the scandal broke, the Kings County District Attorneys office has reportedly dismissed 150 low-level drug cases the arrested officers had investigated. While praising the NYPD and the internal affairs bureau for their quick action in this matter, a spokesman for Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes said that the charges were dismissed because the cases investigated by the officers that have fallen under this shadow of corruption probably couldnt be made. 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 said 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. But the cowboy behavior that some of these units revel in hasnt gone unnoticed. On Monday, Williamsburg Assemblymember Joe Lentol announced that he will begin a renewed push to demand more disclosure on 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 it. 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. 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. with Gary Buiso
©2008 Community News Group
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