Police union boss punished for public comments while in uniform

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Acting Police Chief Chris Pelagio has punished the head of the local police union for wearing his uniform while attending an April 27 budget hearing to question Mayor Charles Lombardi’s proposal to give the chief a raise.

“I guess you can’t tell the truth at a public hearing if it strikes a nerve with certain people,” said Lt. Dennis Stone, president of the North Providence Fraternal Order of Police No. 13 in an email. “If you do, they file (bogus) internal charges against you.”

Stone wouldn’t say anything further about the internal charges, but two sources said it was levied because Stone wore the uniform as he spoke at the budget hearing.

Pelagio would not confirm that he filed charges against Stone, saying he can’t talk about the situation because of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, but he said the department does have strict regulations on when, where and how officers are to use their uniforms.

Punishments available to him if an officer does violate department rules on uniforms include a verbal or written reprimand or a suspension as long as two days, said Pelagio. The severity of the punishment would depend on the officer’s past history of discipline.

Police provided The Breeze with department regulations that prohibit the wearing of a uniform at any political events or forums. The idea behind the rule, according to police officials, is that an officer will automatically gain a certain level of trust if he is wearing a uniform and not civilian clothes, and therefore potentially have an unfair influence with what he says.

According to Stone, Pelagio tried to “harass and bully” him the morning after the April 27 meeting. As Stone sees it, Pelagio is angry “because the truth is starting to come out about extra pay the chief is getting.”

Stone was the only town resident to stand up on April 27 to speak on Mayor Charles Lombardi’s proposed Fiscal Year 2016 budget, criticizing, among other things, raises for department heads in the face of a cut to the town’s senior center. He made special note of a $10,000 proposed raise for Pelagio, which would increase his salary from $82,000 to $92,000.

According to Stone, Pelagio can’t be too happy about a vote of no confidence by the police union last year when he was deputy chief of police. As far as he knows, that was the first no confidence vote in Rhode Island’s history for a deputy chief, said Stone, and Pelagio believes the union president was responsible for leading the charge on that vote.

“I must have put the pen in the hands of over 65 percent of the members,” he said. “Now he becomes an acting chief making even more money, creating even more issues. Now he is looking at another raise?”

Stone and Pelagio weren’t available to talk about the reason for the no confidence vote.

The bad blood between Stone and the police administration goes back a long way. One of the more recent incidents involved Stone filing a complaint alleging that former Chief Paul Martellini interfered with the union vote to get him elected. Members of the national FOP declined to pursue the matter.

As for Pelagio, he says Lombardi’s proposal for a raise is designed to get his pay in line with other police chiefs. If he doesn’t get the raise, Deputy Chief Kristian Calise will be making more than him next year by union contract, he said, something that is simply unfair.

If he doesn’t get the raise, said Pelagio, he will likely leave for a different job or retire, but his desire is to stay in North Providence because he believes in what police are doing here and “what the badge stands for.” If town officials “want to pay peanuts,” said Pelagio, “you get monkeys.”

http://www.valleybreeze.com/2015-05-12/north-providence/police-union-boss-punished-public-comments-while-uniform#.VVjOg0thv1p