An internal investigation is under way following allegations Cranston police targeted the wards of two City Council members with tickets in retaliation for a November vote against a new contract with the city’s police union.
“What these tickets say to every member of the City Council is, ‘Don’t mess with the police department, because they’ll mess with you,’” said Ward 1 Councilman Steven Stycos, who along with Council Majority Leader and Ward 3 representative Paul Archetto, made the allegations regarding the ticketing.
Stycos, who handed out a packet and made his remarks toward the end of Monday’s council meeting, called the issue a “serious matter,” and said the council “[needs] to find out what happened.”
“We need to know if the chief was involved. We need to know if the mayor’s office was involved,” he said, calling for tickets to be wiped out for those who received them and for the administration of Mayor Allan Fung to appear at the council’s next meeting for a report on the matter. No action was taken to that effect on Monday.
“It raises serious questions in my mind about the police department fairly enforcing the law,” said Stycos.
City Solicitor Christopher Rawson at Monday’s meeting said an internal investigation into the matter had already begun.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Fung said he was limited in his ability to comment but that the situation is being dealt with seriously and appropriately.
“First of all, if these allegations turn out to be true, I want the residents of Cranston to be assured that I do not condone any type of intimidating behavior by any city employees,” the statement reads.
“Once my administration became aware of the situation, we contacted the appropriate authorities who then initiated an investigation.
“Because this is an ongoing active investigation, I cannot discuss this any further. As a former prosecutor, I have to respect the sensitive nature of an investigation and I would not want any public comments to jeopardize or taint it in any way.”
A message left for Cranston Police Maj. Robert Ryan was not immediately returned.
Both Stycos and Archetto recounted similar stories of the morning following the Finance Committee’s Nov. 14 vote against the new contract between the city and International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 301.
Stycos said he saw a large number of tickets on vehicles in his neighborhood on the morning of Friday, Nov. 15, something he found a “little unusual.” Archetto similarly said he saw an “extraordinary amount of orange stickers” on vehicles in his neighborhood that morning, and called Stycos.
Stycos’ ward spans the eastern part of the city, including Edgewood, Pawtuxet Village and a portion of Auburn, while Archetto’s ward includes the Arlington, Stadium and Forest Hills neighborhoods.
The committee vote was 4-3 against a new three-year pact with the police union, with Council President John Lanni and At-Large Councilwoman Sarah Kales Lee joining Stycos and Archetto in opposing the pact. Voting in favor of the contract were Ward 2 Councilman Donald Botts Jr., Ward 4 Councilman Mario Aceto and At-Large Councilman Michael Farina.
A one-year agreement with the union proposed as part of the package was tabled at that time.
Stycos said after seeing the tickets on the morning of Nov. 15, he sought data from the mayor’s office regarding tickets issued across the city for Nov. 15 and Nov. 16 and the weeks leading up to those dates.
According to the packet of information Stycos provided Monday, there were 137 tickets issued over those two days – vastly more than the 48 total issued in September, the 74 issued in October and the 17 written for November up to that point.
Of the tickets issued during the two-day period in question, Stycos’ information shows 66 of them – 48 percent – were issued in Ward 1. Another 62 – 45 percent – were handed out in Ward 3. The vast majority of tickets were issued for parking violations.
Stycos, in his packet, wrote that he is awaiting additional information from the mayor’s office regarding tickets issued on Nov. 16 and the rest of November.
Stycos and Archetto said the targeting of their two wards indicates an order was given somewhere up the department’s chain of command to undertake the ticketing, given that the wards are in different police districts.
On Monday, Archetto read aloud before the full council the oath a policeman takes upon entering law enforcement.
“I have serious reservations about the person who directed his subordinates to target Ward 1 and Ward 3,” he said.
“For this to have happened … it wasn’t just my district. It was two districts,” said Stycos.
Stycos also included in his packet a pair of anonymous letters, purportedly sent to him from members of the police union, which support the claim that a high-ranking officer within the department ordered the ticketing.
Stycos said he has discussed the issue with members of the police department, but not with Police Chief Col. Marco Palombo Jr.
The contract rejected by the finance committee in November would have been the first with the police union since the expiration of the last agreement in 2012.
In a letter to the editor regarding their vote, Archetto, Lanni, Lee and Stycos asserted the agreement would “cost Cranston citizens more than $1 million a year, starting July 1, 2015.” They cited the inclusion of “steps” for pay increases as well as “across-the-board raises, extra longevity payments … and other new contract provisions” in their vote against the proposal.
They also urged the mayor’s administration to return to the bargaining table with the union.
The city’s figures indicate the cost of the contract would be much less, and Fung has said the finance committee’s vote “hurt taxpayers in the long-term financially and in the short-term through operations.”
The mayor has said the agreement, as negotiated, would have provided “long-term structural changes that would protect our city’s fiscal health for future generations, particularly in the area of retirement benefits – making the Cranston Police department one of the first in the state to do so.”
“Additionally, this contract would have taken us significantly forward in better serving the citizens by ensuring that police officers moved into some of the most critical positions, such as detectives and training officers for new patrolmen, would do so through a panel review rather than the current practice of straight seniority,” the mayor said.
Other members of the council supportive of the contract have said its provisions would bring compensation for Cranston police in line with that of other communities.
The union and its president, Police Capt. Steven Antonucci, have also pushed back against the finance committee’s vote. At the committee’s Nov. 14 meeting, Antonucci had said the contract was fair to both law enforcement personnel and taxpayers, and the union, through its Twitter account, said the vote left its members feeling “unappreciated.”