A two-year investigation into allegations that municipal police officers cheated on a routine recertification exam has resulted in 15 officers in Delaware and Chester Counties being stripped of their law enforcement powers.
The case began after officers in one Chester County department reported that answers were circulated in advance by e-mail to a 10-question, multiple-choice recertification test in February 2009.
Several police chiefs Friday decried the lack of evidence in the state police investigation and said they were standing by their officers.
The department hit hardest was Upland's, where three of its four full-time officers were decertified. In a statement, the borough said, "The police officers involved have categorically denied the allegation and at this time the borough has no reason or basis to disbelieve them." It would not comment beyond that.
S. Stanton Miller, a lawyer representing 12 of the officers, called the decision unjustified and said he would appeal it to Commonwealth Court.
The action was announced Thursday by a state police agency that oversees the certification process for 23,000 municipal police officers.
The decertification also immediately affects four officers in Darby Borough and two in Brookhaven. One officer in each of the following departments was involved: Ridley Park, Oxford, Nether Providence, Ridley Township, Trainer, and Upper Darby.
Jack Lewis, a state police spokesman, said the officers could no longer enforce the law, carry firearms, or reapply for certification. They could, however, work in an administrative capacity, he said.
Some departments said they would increase their use of part-time officers to fill in gaps. Police Chief Thomas Byrne in Ridley Park said he would take on a summer patrol if needed. He said he fully supported the staffer involved in his department, whom he described as a very good officer.
Reactions to the probe ranged from sadness to devastation.
For Oxford Police Chief John F. Slaugh, the decision of the Municipal Police Officers Educational and Training Commission provided some closure. The case began when two of his officers reported that a fellow officer was circulating test answers.
Chief John Eller of Brookhaven backed the two members of his force who were cited. One, he said, retired Monday after 39 years. Of the other, he said, "I stick by him."
Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said, "I don't know what evidence they have. They showed absolutely nothing that [one of his officers] cheated."
Officials from Trainer and Ridley Township did not return calls; Darby police referred all questions to FOP lawyer Miller.
Miller said the issue arose out of a test given to 52 officers on Feb. 25, 2009, on the topic of officer suicides. He said there was no indication that an e-mail with the test answers had gone to any of his clients.
Describing them as extremely upset, Miller said they were asked by the state police whether they were willing to take a polygraph test and all agreed; then they were told it would not be offered.
He said he would ask Commonwealth Court for a stay of the decertification pending the appeal.
Michael Irey, a decertified Nether Providence officer, called the process devastating, especially his inability to take a polygraph. "I asked them to try and prove my innocence and they refused," he said. "I stand to lose everything. I have already lost my reputation and I can't get this back."
Police officers are required to undergo 12 hours of training at designated centers every year and renew their certification every two years. State Police Maj. John Gallaher could not be reached for comment Friday. He earlier described the tests as straightforward, providing a tool to ensure that "the instructional objectives were grasped."
He said officers who do not pass get a second test, and in rare instances have to retake the course.
Slaugh said he contacted state police authorities after learning one of his officers allegedly sent the e-mail answers.
He said he began an investigation of the accused officer, Sean Gallagher, who was ultimately dismissed from the force.
Gallagher did not deny sending the e-mail but maintained it was not an offense that should cost him his job, the chief said. An independent arbiter disagreed, upholding the termination in May, Slaugh said.
Lewis, the state police spokesman, said termination of the officers would be the responsibility of the affected police departments.
Losing certification were Robert Barbour, Kenneth Collins, David Cuddhy, and Timothy Hannigan of Darby Borough; Brian Boyd, Michael Curran, and Daniel DiNardo of Upland; Ian Cleghorn of Ridley Park; Francis Ely Jr. and Richard Fuller of Brookhaven; Gallagher, in Oxford; Irey, in Nether Providence; Mark Heine of Ridley Township; Jonathan Freeman of Trainer; and Kevin Cosentino of Upper Darby.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service