Cianci wants more cops, community policing in Providence

October 3rd, 2014 at 1:49 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Dan McGowan

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Independent mayoral candidate Vincent “Buddy” Cianci Jr. said Friday he wants to expand the city’s police force, pledging to find the money to add cops by conducting an audit of the city budget aimed at identifying “waste, fraud and abuse” if he defeats Democrat Jorge Elorza on Nov. 4.

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State Police may help Providence fight crime

November 29th, 2013 at 3:25 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Dan McGowan & Tim White

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Leaders from the Rhode Island State Police and the Providence Police Department are discussing an arrangement that would provide the city with a “semi-permanent” state trooper detail to assist with crime prevention.

In a memo obtained by WPRI.com, State Police Deputy Superintendent Lt. Col. Michael Winquist wrote that approximately six troopers would assist with the city’s Neighborhood Response Team, an eight-year-old joint taskforce between state and Providence Police that has traditionally been used during the summer months and on holiday weekends.

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Scituate, police union set for arbitration over pension shortfall

February 5th, 2013 at 6:47 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

​By Ted Nesi and Tim White

SCITUATE, R.I. (WPRI) – Police officers in Scituate are criticizing a plan crafted by town officials that would make officers pay more money for less generous pensions in order to help close an $8 million shortfall that opened up over the last decade.

Town leaders including the newly elected treasurer, Sharon Johnson, are grappling with how to fix one of Rhode Island’s worst-funded local pension plans. A Target 12 investigation Monday revealed the Scituate Police Pension Board met just once over the past 12 years as the shortfall soared from less than $2 million to more than $8 million.

Active police officers, retirees and taxpayers in Scituate will all have to share the burden to fix the seven-figure problem, Johnson told Target 12 on Tuesday, saying she expects the town council will be forced to raise taxes.

“I think to be fair and balanced, as our president says, you really need to have all three step up and make some sacrifices and say we are all part of this and we all need to solve it,” Johnson said. “It can’t just be on one part of the equation.”

A funding improvement plan that Scituate submitted to state officials proposes a series of changes to the plan, but they won’t take effect unless the police union agrees to them. Patrolman Todd Rich, the union’s president, said his members are open to concessions but are frustrated with the initial proposal.

“All officers put in the requirements throughout the years,” Rich told Target 12. “Without fail, payment was made. Unfortunately, the town didn’t make their payments for whatever reason. Now they realize they have to pay to make that work. The town doesn’t want to make those payments. Now they are asking for us to compromise.”

The town and the police union will probably be forced into binding arbitration to resolve the pension dispute, Rich said.

The Scituate Police Pension Board is made up of five members: the treasurer, two town councilors and two officers appointed by Rich’s police union. He acknowledged his members might have been better off if the board had held more than one meeting between the middle of 1999 and July 2011.

“Unfortunately, the officers trusted the town was doing their responsibility,” he said. “We made payments every week in our paycheck. We assumed and trusted the town was taking care of their end and making sure the system was healthy.”

The 2011 state pension law required towns with underfunded local pension plans to come up with proposals to fix them. Scituate officials want to reduce police retirees’ cost-of-living adjustments from 3% to 2%; base benefits on an officer’s average final salary over five years instead of one; and hike their paycheck contributions from 10% to 12%.

Rich emphasized that the police union’s members are open to all three of those changes, but said there are two other significant issues related to retirement benefits where the officers and the town aren’t on the same page. He declined to disclose the two issues.

The proposed changes would reduce the Scituate police plan’s shortfall from $8.7 million to just under $8 million, actuaries at The Angell Pension Group estimated in November. Oddly, the proposal would actually reduce the town’s pension contribution from $768,968 to $694,165 but increase how much the officers put in from $95,108 to $114,129.

Over the years Scituate taxpayers have consistently put less money into the police pension fund than actuaries said was necessary, which is one of the reasons its funding level had fallen to 28% as of July 2011.

“The town is trying to make up all of the shortfall on our backs,” Rich said. “They are trying to put all the problems of the plan on the weight of the officers.” He said the local police have agreed to previous pension changes and also received no pay raises in their last contract.

Johnson said she hopes town officials and the police union can come to an agreement. “The current plan is unsustainable,” she said. A 2011 study by the Rhode Island Auditor General’s office found Scituate’s pension funding was the third-lowest in the state.

“There are going to be a lot of hard choices as to what you can do in the town, as far as funding things that you might like,” Johnson said. “You have to make some very hard choices. But definitely it can be solved.”

Johnson said the Scituate Police Pension Board is scheduled to hold a public meeting in March and will continue to meet regularly after that.

“It’s a pension board – they need to meet regularly, at least quarterly if not bimonthly or monthly,” she said. “You need to meet to discuss the problems.” But, she added, “It’s a funding problem. The pension board really can’t fund it. They can only suggest.”

The board’s other four members are Town Council Vice President David Hanna, Town Councilor William Hurry, and police union appointees Richard Parenti and Donald Delaere.

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @white_tim

Firefighters organizing pension protest at Raimondo fundraiser

December 10th, 2012 at 10:31 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

• Update: Raimondo says she respects union pacts

Treasurer Gina Raimondo will have some uninvited guests at her fundraiser in Providence tonight.

Paul Valletta, president of the Cranston firefighters union, confirmed to WPRI 12′s Tim White that his members will be picketing outside a campaign fundraiser Raimondo is holding Monday night at Rick’s Roadhouse to coincide with the Patriots’ appearance on Monday Night Football.

“It’s just our way to say that we haven’t forgotten what the general treasurer did to many state workers, police officers, teachers and firefighters,” Valletta told White on Monday. “It hasn’t been forgotten that people’s lives have been changed negatively when they didn’t have to be.”

Valletta famously argued during last fall’s debate over the new pension law that Raimondo had “cooked the books” by getting the Retirement Board to change investment and actuarial forecasts in ways that worsened the pension fund’s finances. Raimondo said the new numbers were more accurate.

The R.I. State Association of Fire Fighters has asked all off-duty members to join the protest, writing in an email that it’s “very likely that she will be making a run for the governor’s seat next election.” Valletta said some police officers may show up, as well, but they don’t want to cause “a mess on the street.”

“One of the issues we are focusing on is the age issue: with the change to the pension you are going to have firefighters stay into their 60s and 70s to get a full pension,” he said.

Echoing an argument gaining steam of late, Valletta said Raimondo should have negotiated changes to the pension system at the bargaining table with organized labor rather than having state lawmakers approve the changes unilaterally.

​(photo: ProvidencesRestaurant.com)

Slideshow: Bristol police want back into the town pension plan

August 14th, 2012 at 12:40 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

The police union in Bristol is trying to convince town officials to move their officers out of the state-run Municipal Employees Retirement System (MERS) and back into the town’s underfunded locally run pension plan [pdf], which was closed to new hires in 1998.

The union hired an actuary from Milliman to help them make the case – here’s her slideshow:

What do you think?

WPRI wins public records case; Woonsocket PD must disclose

June 25th, 2012 at 3:02 pm by under General Talk, Nesi's Notes

By Tim White

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Rhode Island Attorney General’s office has ruled the Woonsocket Police Department violated the state’s public records laws by refusing to give WPRI 12 the narrative portion of an arrest report, charging a fellow officer with drunk driving.

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White: Cranston cop out on public records hurts right to know

December 20th, 2011 at 6:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

By Tim White

A case of a police department apparently cooking the books is being obscured from view thanks to a sloppy translation of Rhode Island’s public records laws.

In October, The Providence Journal’s Amanda Milkovits ran a superbly reported story on police misconduct complaints in Cranston that were essentially tucked away, seemingly to do nothing more than collect dust. The report points out the previous police chief, Col. Stephen McGrath, had touted a sharp decline in police complaints in a 2007 annual report. But that might have been nothing more than a sleight of hand, according to an internal investigation.

Here are the findings from Milkovits’ article in a nutshell:

… according to an audit ordered by current Police Chief Marco Palombo Jr., the real reason the number of complaints dropped was that instead of logging all of the complaints, the department’s internal-affairs unit was diverting some into a “file report,” where they vanished from the log-book, statistics, and, apparently, investigations.

Milkovits wrote four excruciating paragraphs detailing why everyone and their lawyers couldn’t, or wouldn’t, explain why data on officer complaints vanished into a virtual drawer.


Target 12: In Rhode Island, it seems to matter ‘Who You Know’

November 11th, 2011 at 8:55 am by under Nesi's Notes

Are police departments in the state favoring certain connected individuals? Tim White reports:

C. Falls’ fired police chief started collecting a pension last year

September 23rd, 2011 at 5:29 pm by under Nesi's Notes

Joseph P. Moran’s tenure as Central Falls’ police chief ended when receiver Robert Flanders eliminated his job on Friday morning – more than a year after the chief started collecting his pension.

Although Moran officially “retired” on April 1, 2010, he simultaneously signed a new five-year contract allowing him to continue working as the city’s police chief. The chief said it would save money over the long run.

The eyebrow-raising deal – reached just two months before the city’s leaders declared insolvency and filed for receivership – put Moran in line to earn roughly $121,000 this year: a $71,000 salary and a $50,678 pension.

However, Moran’s annual pension was slashed by 55% to $22,805 starting this month as part of the deep cuts ordered by Flanders following Central Falls’ bankruptcy filing, documents reviewed by WPRI.com show. With the loss of his salary now, too, Moran’s income has dropped by nearly $100,000 over roughly a month.

Moran’s original $50,678 pension was the second largest in Central Falls, topped only by the $52,055 paid to the widow of the city’s late fire chief, Rene Coutu; the ex-chief’s reduced $22,805 pension ranks No. 21 out of 134. Coutu’s is still the largest at $44,046, according to the receiver’s office.

Flanders voided the new contract Moran signed last year earlier this month. The other two Central Falls employees whose positions were eliminated today – the police department’s prosecution clerk and the deputy city clerk – moved to other jobs, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office said.

Nneka Nwosu contributed to this report.

Flanders aims to slash Central Falls police, fire budget by 40%

August 2nd, 2011 at 10:36 am by under Nesi's Notes

Central Falls’ state-appointed receiver is proposing a 40% reduction in the city’s police and fire budget as part of its Chapter 9 filing, according to court documents filed Monday.

Receiver Robert Flanders asked U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Frank Bailey to void the city’s contracts with its police, fire and municipal unions. To support the proposal, he presented two city budgets for 2011-12 – its current unbalanced one, and a proposed balanced one that could be put in place if the contracts are thrown out.

The balanced budget would reduce Central Falls’ municipal spending this fiscal year by 26%, from $22 million to $16.3 million, to match its revenue. The bulk of those savings would come by reducing the police and fire departments’ budgets from a combined $10.6 million to $6.4 million.

“Many of the changes producing significant savings … are changes in the active labor force either by reduction, consolidation or shared services which would be prohibited under the terms of the CBAs,” or collective bargaining agreements, Theodore Orson, the city’s bankruptcy attorney, wrote in the filing.

Orson went on to say the city will treat the union contracts as null and void effective immediately, and warned of dire consequences if the judge reinstates them rather than siding with Flanders.

“Unless the CBAs are rejected, the city will be ‘upside-down’ financially and will be unable to pay its debts as they become due,” he wrote. “Without rejection, the city will default on its pension obligations and other obligations. It might even default on its bond obligations which would have enormous policy implications beyond Central Falls.”

The unions’ attorneys filed notice with the court on Monday. Carly Beauvais Iafrate of Providence will represent the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 2, and Elizabeth Wiens of Gursky Law Associates in North Kingstown will represent the Central Falls Fire Fighters Union, IAFF Local 1485.

A hearing on the city’s bankruptcy case is scheduled for Wednesday morning at U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Providence.

More Central Falls coverage on Nesi’s Notes:

Public records outrage of the day: North Providence edition

June 9th, 2011 at 1:42 pm by under Nesi's Notes

A picture is worth a thousand words. Especially when most of the words have been assaulted by a magic marker.

Acting on a tip Wednesday, Tim White broke a story about a North Providence firefighter arrested for allegedly stealing painkillers from a terminally ill patient while responding to an emergency call.

To confirm the news, Tim called the North Providence Police Department and spoke to the deputy chief. He also asked for the department’s arrest report on the case. That’s common practice; Rhode Island’s public records law specifically says that “records or reports reflecting the initial arrest of an adult and the charge or charges brought against an adult shall be public.”

The most interesting part of an arrest report is usually the narrative, where the officer describes how the alleged crime was committed and how the suspect was caught. It often provides the most vivid details you read in the news article on a crime.

The deputy chief told Tim he’d send the report along, but first he wanted to redact the victim’s name. Here’s what the narrative looked like when it showed up on our fax machine 10 minutes later:

Dig that transparency!

Tim called the police department back and said, basically, “Is this a joke?” The deputy chief admitted that perhaps the redaction had been a bit extreme, and agreed to take another look. About a half-hour later, Tim got this new version of the narrative:

The second version showed the original one redacted just about everything: the initial reason for the emergency call, a whole section about a witness claiming he saw the firefighter pocket the pills, another about the firefighter being questioned about it, a third one about him allegedly dropping the pills on the couch – basically, the entire story of what happened. Why was all that hidden from the public?

On top of that, the deputy chief had already given Tim many of these details verbally during their original phone interview. So it’s not like he thought all that information should be a secret.

Also interesting – notice that the original, heavily redacted version of the narrative ends with the long second paragraph, but the second version continues onto a second page. So the original version didn’t even include the full arrest report – redacted or not – yet there was no way for us to be aware of the fact that even more information was being withheld than the redacting showed.

And even the less-redacted version of the arrest report raises questions. The deputy chief had said he was only going to remove the name of the victim, but clearly the second version excises far more than that, including full sentences.

As always, the problem here is a knee-jerk default to secrecy – “the right to no” instead of the right to know.

“I applaud the North Providence Police Department for being more transparent the second time around, but my concern is that they may have done it because I’m a member of the news media,” Tim said. “Would a regular member of the general public – who has a right to an arrest report that’s not completely blacked out – get the same treatment?”

More public records coverage on Nesi’s Notes: