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Monday, February 20, 2012

Back on the Job: The Cop That Wouldn't Stay Fired

     Police unions, civil service, law enforcement solidarity, and the right of arbitration, makes firing a cop twice as difficult as evicting a freeloading relative. Once a police officer is on the job, short of being convicted of a felony, he stays on the force. Poor job performance, behavior unbecoming a law enforcement officer (a concept that has lost its meaning), and general unfitness for the work, are not grounds for dismissal. (In the private sector, it's another story altogether.)

     While it's easier to get your hands on top-secret CIA files than a police officer's personnel jacket, there are thousands of cops on the job with fat employment histories laden with citizen complaints, and disciplinary actions. A brutal, dishonest, lazy, and/or incompetent police officer can stick around until retirement. Many get out early by fabricating  phony medical disability claims, then take up water sports in Miami. And there is very little police chiefs can do about it. In law enforcement, the higher you go, the less power you have. I'm sorry, but it's true. 

Not One of New Castle's Finest

     New Castle, Pennsylvania, the seat of Lawrence County 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, has seen better days. At one time, the town of 24,000 had been a thriving, fast-growing mill town. It's currently a shell of its former self, and struggling to come back. If any place needs a good police force, it's this town. 

     On the night of December 23, 2010, an off-duty New Castle police officer named James L. Paglia was a passenger in a pick-up truck. His wife Terri was driving. They were arguing, and he was intoxicated. Officer Paglia got so angry, he allegedly hit his wife in the back of the head with his 9-millimeter handgun, then shoved the barrel of the loaded firearm into the side of her face. Forced out of the truck, the terrified woman came upon another police officer who had been following them. (I don't know if this was by design, or just happenstance. I'm thinking it was by design.)

     With his wife out of the vehicle, Paglia slid behind the wheel, and drove off. He didn't get far. Pulled over on suspicion of driving while drunk, he failed a field sobriety test, and was taken into custody. 

     Following a criminal complaint filed by his wife, the Lawrence County district attorney charged Paglia with two counts of simple assault, reckless endangerment, terroristic threats, harassment, and DUI. The police department placed Paglia on unpaid administrative leave, and opened an internal investigation that resulted in the finding that this officer had violated departmental rules and regulations pertaining to officer conduct. 

     In March 2011, members of the New Castle City Council voted unanimously to remove officer Paglia from the police force. Later in the year, Paglia's wife withdrew her criminal complaint. (Not an uncommon event in wife abuse cases.) Without a prosecuting witness, the district attorney had no choice but to drop the serious charges against Paglia. The DUI count remained, but Paglia, as a first offender, was allowed to plead guilty, and enter the accelerated rehabilitative disposition program. Upon completion of this sentence, his DUI conviction would be expunged from the public record. 

     Pursuant to the city's collective bargaining agreement with the local Fraternal Order of the Police, Paglia could appeal his job dismissal to an independent arbitrator. And that's what he did. (With the wife abuse charges dismissed, he was now just an off-duty cop who had gotten behind the wheel of his truck with too much to drink.) In October 2011, the arbitrator held that the New Castle Police Department had to re-hire Mr. Paglia. He would not, however, recover lost wages or benefits, and the department, as a condition of re-employment, could require a drug and alcohol evaluation. 

     So, it looks like New Castle will have a police officer pulling over drunk drivers who himself was a drunk driver. Moreover, this officer will be responding to scenes of domestic violence where the boyfriend or husband is drunk and abusive. In the latter cases, just how sympathetic can this cop be to the abused woman? 

     In dealing with the public, police officers do not tolerate even a trace of disrespect. They have become extremely thin-skinned. For us civilians, the police have set the behavior bar very high. However, when dealing with their own, the behavior bar is extremely low. 

     One would think that the citizens of New Castle, Pennsylvania would be outraged by officer Paglia's reinstatement. But, as far as I can tell, they are not. Given the history of public corruption in this town, I guess they have become numb to stories like this.   

1 comment:

  1. How would you like to be the police officer who arrested him? Now he/she has to work side by side with the same officer they arrested.