ELIZABETH, NJ – A year ago, while corruption allegations were swirling through the Elizabeth police department, officers felt they had nowhere to turn for help. Now, there is strong evidence alcohol consumption is part of the regular weekly routine in the main detective bureau and detectives continue to feel they have no hope of fixing it from the inside.
Multiple sources not only brought forth pictures of a liquor stash kept in a drawer in the 20-man main detective bureau that handles adult crimes, but also confirmed that several times a week many on-duty detectives are too drunk to perform their work.
According to several detectives, the practice of drinking while on duty is especially concerning because of the safety risk it poses when victims and witnesses of crimes are brought into the detective bureau to be interviewed.
“There is a group of eight to ten detectives who drink regularly, meaning at least one or two days a week,” said one detective, noting coworkers have not reported this to their superiors because “the truth is, nothing would be done.”
This was confirmed by several other detectives who admitted the practice of drinking on the job in the main detective bureau was something that is considered “routine.”
And it is not done when superiors are absent, either. Superiors also engage in drinking the hard liquor that is kept in a drawer of a desk in the main detective area according to sources within the department.
Superior officers “say ‘maybe you need a drink’ to a detective who has had a stressful day and that’s all anyone needs to open the drawer and begin drinking,” said one detective source, adding “it’s a joke to even think about going over someone’s head to his superior.”
According to the detective, who has been in the department for years, because his superior officer is “in” with Police Director James Cosgrove and Police Chief Patrick Shannon, reporting the incident would only result in a dead end or worse, punishment.
“If they find out you have gone over their head or if you say something about drinking on the shift not being right, they will make sure you live to regret it,” he added, pointing out that superiors can move a detective to an assignment that no detective would ever want.
The detectives LocalSource spoke with in the last week about the presence of alcohol in the main detective bureau echoed the same sentiment as police officers last year: there is no one to turn to for help. Only this time, they are gravely concerned about the repercussions of what could happen as a result of detectives becoming inebriated on the job.
“Do you understand we have victims and witnesses being interviewed in the detective division? What if a detective who is drunk lays his gun on a desk and someone picks it up and starts shooting?” asked one detective. “It’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt bad or is killed.”
Police sources also said they feel sorry for victims whose cases are not worked on in a timely manner or “messed up” because the detective handling the case is drunk.
“I’ve seen detectives who can’t do their job,” said another detective, noting he has witnessed evidence getting lost or misplaced so victims of crimes wait much longer than they should for an investigation of a crime to take place or be completed.
“I feel sorry for these victims. Because they mess up evidence, some criminal walks. They deserve better but they’re not getting the professionalism they should get and we are talking some serious crimes here,” said another source, who works in the main detective division.
Detectives also noted that some superior officers are well aware drinking is going on at headquarters but they do nothing about it because they also drink heavily.
One superior officer “reeks of alcohol” said one detective, adding the officer in question also keeps a bottle in his desk drawer. But the alcohol problem, they said, goes even deeper.
“These detectives get in for their shift, go out for lunch, get hammered and then things get pushed off,” said one detective, admitting he was “completely disgusted” by what takes place in the detective division.
Detectives also pointed out that these officers who are drinking have firearms at all times, and will even drive drunk in departmental vehicles on days when drinking occurs.
“Victims wait far longer than they should for their cases to be investigated because this and that is an injustice,” said another detective, who said the entire city police department “needs the state to step in and do something.”
“Who ultimately suffers for this drinking while on duty is the victim,” he added, mentioning that police officers and detectives have no where to turn for help, not even their own PBA union.
“You can’t even go to the PBA because they’re tied to all of them who drink,” one source said, explaining concern has continued to mount over time and the only place to turn was LocalSource.
While detective sources in the main detective bureau spoke about what was going on in their division, other sources said the same thing goes on in the juvenile detective division.
Superior officers in the juvenile division allow it, too, said a detective in that division, adding that “decent, hard working” detectives and police officers in the department want to see things change but they know they cannot go to the Prosecutor’s Office for help.
“Are you kidding me? That didn’t do any good last year when the pay job scandal came out and it won’t do any good now. For some reason the mayor refuses to step in and clean house but he will have to when something tragic happens. Then it will be too late,” said a detective who has witnessed the drinking that goes on in the main detective bureau “at least once or twice a week.”
“Even if we tell the attorney general, he just shoots the complaint back to the Prosecutor’s Office to investigate and you know how far that goes – no where,” he added.
Sources were familiar with the recent pay-job scandal that took place last year, and remember how little came of that investigation, making them even more reluctant to share their feelings with higher up law enforcement officials.
In February 2014, LocalSource discovered that corruption was running rampant within the Elizabeth Police Department, after more than 20 police officers reported the corruption. What followed was a series of six investigative articles that showed city police officers were being paid for overtime jobs within the housing authority, school district, urban enterprise district and construction sites but deliberately failed to show up for these “pay jobs.”
The overtime pay jobs were sought after by police officers because they paid very well. According to documents obtained using the Open Public Records Act, police officers took home $23.2 million from 2009 through 2013, but it is unclear exactly how much of that money was paid to officers who never showed up for the work.
Discovering exactly how many police officers were involved with this pay job scam that superiors, including Cosgrove and Shannon, were well aware was taking place, was not easy.
However, using OPRA to obtain records, LocalSource was able to discover each officer was paid between $27.50 per hour from 2009, to upwards of $50 per hour by the end of 2013. Pay jobs alone racked up during this time period at just four housing authority facilities came to 16,453 hours.
More than a half-million in federal dollars was paid out by the housing authority for these pay jobs that many police officers did not show up to fulfill. While this was reported to the federal authorities by the housing authority, there has been no further information on what came of it.
The city also benefited consistently from pay jobs, with Elizabeth receiving approximately $2.50 to $5 from every hour’s pay an officer earned while working or not showing up for these off-duty pay jobs. For housing authority jobs alone, $63,685 in one year went to straight to city hall as an administrative fee.
The Union County Prosecutor’s Office did investigate the allegations that involved 18 police officers, two of whom pleaded guilty to charges of third-degree theft by deception, while a third resigned as the result of a plea deal, but did not face charges. The remainder of officers involved were referred back to the police department to be handled administratively. How that was handled has never been released publicly.
The Prosecutor’s Office did release a statement saying their investigation “did not reveal evidence of other criminal conduct.” However, more than 15 police sources said the matter was swept under the rug by Cosgrove and Shannon, which they continue to maintain was and is “criminal.”
Other sources confirmed this, explaining the Elizabeth Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division is not only ineffective, but overseen by Shannon, who decides who will “get a pass.”
“If you are in Shannon or Cosgroves clique, you are protected and they will cover up whatever trouble you get into,” said one police officer last year, which was confirmed by more than 30 other police officer sources.
“You think Cosgrove or Shannon didn’t know cops weren’t showing up for these security jobs? Of course they knew. Shannon was one of the biggest abusers before he became chief,” said one police officer.
The problem, though, is that while the corruption was not denied by many police officer sources, they said it was futile to try and do anything about it.
“You learn to play along and not say anything about what’s going on because it’s their word against yours and Cosgrove and Shannon protect their own,” said one detective, pointing out that “it’s not how good you are at your job, it’s who you know.”