|DARE Still Lacks Written Policy for Cop Contacts|
Posted by FoM on February 05, 2000 at 08:00:39 PT|
By Keith Clines, Times Staff Writer
Source: Alabama Live
Five years ago, the Huntsville Police Department didn't have a written policy covering after-school contact between DARE officers and schoolchildren.
Last month, the City Council voted to pay $3.5 million to seven young men who said they were sexually molested by a DARE officer in 1995.
Today, the city still has no written policy to govern DARE officers' contact with students away from school. But Police Chief Compton Owens thinks sufficient measures have been taken to make any future unauthorized contact unlikely.
Officers have been told by their superiors that unsupervised contact with children is not allowed, Owens said. The direct, verbal orders carry the weight of written rules.
''No officer, regardless of their assignment, is allowed to interact with children in a nonsanctioned activity,'' Owens said.
The city recently settled the lawsuit filed by the youths who said they were sexually and physically abused by former officer Greg Terry. Terry met the young men in school when he was an officer with the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program and had contact with them after school hours.
A grand jury had indicted Terry in connection with the allegations, but he killed himself in Kentucky in November 1996 before the warrants could be served. Terry had also been the subject of accusations in 1993, but at that time a different grand jury failed to indict him, and the city put Terry back to work in the DARE unit.
Owens, who was not named police chief until late 1996, could not talk specifically about the Terry case on orders of the city attorney. But he did talk generally about the department's rules about after-hours contact with children and the screening process for hiring police officers and for transfers into the DARE unit.
DARE officers are now supervised by Sgt. Jeff Pendergraft. Pendergraft has told them directly that unsupervised contact at an event not sanctioned by the school or department is not allowed, Owens said.
''Everything we do is supervised,'' said Pendergraft, who has been the DARE supervisor less than two years.
DARE officers work after-school events, such as sports contests or study halls, but a teacher has to be present, Pendergraft said. The DARE program taught in the schools requires a teacher's presence as well, he said.
If a DARE officer broke the nonsupervised contact rule, Pendergraft said, the punishment could range from a reprimand to dismissal from the unit.
''I don't take too lightly officers disobeying a direct order,'' Pendergraft said.
The DARE unit consists of six full-time officers, a part-time officer and Pendergraft.
Officers teach DARE lessons to four grades - kindergarten, second, fifth and seventh - each year. In the 1998-99 school year, they taught 7,549 students in Huntsville's public schools and 404 in the private schools.
The program is evaluated each year by students, parents, teachers, principals and Pendergraft.
To become a DARE officer, an officer must have at least two years of consecutive duty as a full-time Huntsville police officer. Other requirements and qualifications include a background investigation, a recommendation from the applicant's commander, no disciplinary action for the previous year, oral and written communications skills, ability to provide educational instruction, job knowledge, and appearance and professionalism.
Officers seeking a DARE position must go before an interview board consisting of the DARE sergeant (Pendergraft), the training director (Lt. Kirk Giles), and the city schools coordinator (Nancy Fortner, a guidance specialist with the city school system).
The board interviews and prepares a file on each candidate, then makes a recommendation to the police chief with the candidates ranked in order of their qualifications. The chief chooses the applicant who gets the job.
Hiring Process Changed:
The city in the 1980s gave applicants a test that measured general aptitude for the job, but did not include any predictor or measurement on whether that applicant should or should not be hired.
"There's no foolproof way to ensure that a bad person won't get through the process and be a bad police officer"
When Owens became chief in 1996, he replaced the test with a psychological exam developed specifically for police departments. The exam provides a specific recommendation on whether the applicant should be hired for police work. The new psychological exam is intended to measure the applicant's values, judgment, ethics, decision making and ability to deal with authority.
'No Foolproof Way'
The department will not overreact because of the Terry matter, Owens said, and officers will not let that situation force them to quit interacting with the community through outreach programs.
Owens says he does take seriously what happened in the Terry case and wants to try to prevent anything like that from happening again.
But, he said, ''There's no foolproof way to ensure that a bad person won't get through the process and be a bad police officer.''
Published: February 5, 2000