Pennsylvania State Police are investigating allegations of cheating by more than 30 municipal police officers on annual recertification tests, threatening their careers.
Most of the officers under investigation by the state police Municipal Police Officers' Education and Training Commission in Harrisburg are from Mon Valley departments and Allegheny County police who participated in a January recertification course in Wilkins taught by Penn Hills police Chief Howard Burton.
Since 1974, the training commission has set certification and training standards for sworn officers seeking to earn or retain authority to arrest criminal suspects statewide. Though cheating on a recertification exam breaks no laws, it can destroy an officer's career because the commission has statutory authority to ban from retraining and recertification any cop caught cheating.
"At this time, we do not believe that any laws were broken; however, the involved officers could be subject to (commission) sanctions and even decertification, depending on the results of the investigation," said Trooper Adam Reed, state police spokesman. "The investigation is still in the early stages, so no time frame has been established for completion. We are being assisted by other agencies, but I cannot provide specifically which ones, due to the investigation's active status."
During recertification, the commission sends answer keys to several tests to certified training academies statewide. There are different versions of exams because officers might fail one version and then retake the quiz using another.
The most recent state police probe is focused on an unidentified officer who allegedly used a cellphone to send answers to the Day 2 exam to other officers. Alerted by a whistleblower who was shipped the answers, Allegheny County Police Academy instructor Dave McIntrye swapped out the planned Day 2 test with another version. Officers who did not notice the difference between questions and largely relied on the supplied answers flunked the quiz.
According to a commission newsletter, the course and test involved Internet crimes, online investigations, social networking and running investigations on Facebook and Twitter. It's based on the explosion in popularity of consumer electronics and was meant to showcase the sorts of digital evidence that can be found on cellphones and other personal communication devices.
McIntyre and the academy director, county police Inspector Wayne E. Gaffon, joined Commission Lt. Stephen Kiessling in confirming the cheating scandal to the Tribune-Review, but added they could not talk about specifics.
Burton said he had no idea how an officer got the answers before the test, but told the Trib that none of his patrolmen attended the course and detectives are not targeting the Penn Hills department.
City of Duquesne's police department confirmed it was contacted by the state police about its officers.
"The officers are still working. They're going to be interviewed next week. They will be administrative interviews, and I will not be privy to them and I will not attend those interviews," said Duquesne police Chief Richard Adams.
Adams said the allegations "definitely" go to the heart of a police officer's integrity. However, he cautioned the public to withhold judgment until all facts are known.
North Versailles police Chief Vincent J. DiCenzo Jr., Allegheny County's representative on the commission's board of directors, said he was in Harrisburg on board business on Thursday when he was informed the state police wanted to talk to two of his officers who took the course.
"They're interviewing the whole class, every officer who was there," DiCenzo said. "I have not been told that any of my officers are suspects of any wrongdoing. They're being interviewed because they were in the class and the state police wants to do a thorough investigation, so they're interviewing everyone who was there."
DiCenzo said because he is a commission board member and might have to vote to take action on the officers' professional future, he removed himself from any role in the investigation.
Swissvale police, who the Trib was told had officers in the class, did not return calls seeking comment.
In 2011, the state training commission stripped the certifications of 15 Delaware County officers caught cheating two years earlier. Most were granted reinstatement in 2013 when they passed written quizzes, physical tests and psychological exams.
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