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Mass. Chief, Mayor See Conflict With Officers Owning Bars

Police Chief Robert A. DeMoura said yesterday he is reviewing the practice of police officers owning bars in the city.

Chief DeMoura said he agrees there is the potential for impropriety at bars owned by police officers.

While on the department as a sergeant in Lowell, he said, he sold his bar, the Brass Lantern, in 1996 because he thought it was a conflict of interest. Also, the Lowell police chief at the time reviewed the practice and five other police officers subsequently sold their bars, he said.

"It was just common sense," he said.

The department has a policy, he said, that says officers "shall not engage in any compensated off-duty employment without the knowledge and approval of the chief; in part ... avoiding a potential conflict of interest and protecting the image of the department."

Chief DeMoura fell short of commenting specifically on JR's Pub on North Street, owned by Police Sgt. Kerry C. Siomos Jr.'s family.

He said he is not sure if Sgt. Siomos provided any former police chiefs with written disclosure that his immediate family owned a bar, as is required by the state Ethics Commission.

Though the sergeant has denied helping with operations at the bar, he has signed for permits in the building department and has said he owns the vacant lot next door where the bar holds car shows.

The state is investigating the validity of the bar's liquor license. Several other permits required by the city are lacking.

Mayor Lisa A. Wong agrees police officers owning bars have a conflict of interest.

"We don't have a policy on it, but it is definitely worth looking into," Ms. Wong said. "My preference, I would prefer that officers do not own bars. I know there is a history of that in the city and it would take some work to put something in place, but if I would have to have it one way or the other, I would prefer that it wouldn't be allowed."

Though the state's Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission has not found any violations at the bar, JR's move from Putnam Street to North Street over a decade ago was met with heavy opposition. Neighbors were concerned about underage college students drinking at the bar and possible difficulties with parking and fire equipment trying to get out from the fire station across the street. The bar is at the entrance to the main corridor to the college from downtown.

A lawyer representing the college filed a complaint with the city's Board of License Commissioners asking it to investigate if there were problems with underage drinking at JR's by Fitchburg State College students.

Campus police said they had come across drunk students - under the legal drinking age of 21 - who said that they had been drinking at JR's and that one weeknight was designated a college drinking night at the bar.

At the time, the college's lawyer, Ellen S. Shapiro of Mahoney, Hawkes & Goldings of Boston, alleged the Fitchburg Police Department had not enforced the drinking-age law at the bar because one of the owners was Officer Siomos.

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