Police Department Rewards Officer Caught By An Online Pedophile Sting With Full Retirement Benefits (Techdirt)
Thursday January 31st, 2013
When parents, law enforcement or politicians discuss web-related issues, one topic always comes up: the possibility that predators are actively stalking children through various social media services. Sometimes this issue is conflated with others in order to push legislation through, while other times it's used as convenient shorthand for the dangers of unsupervised communication.
While the issue is often blown out of proportion, the underlying threat still remains. Arguably, it's much smaller problem than these concerned groups make it out to be, but it is still a real problem. Law enforcement, and the politicians who keep them funded, make capturing child predators a priority, often utilizing extensive sting operations and weeks (or months) of undercover work to put these offenders behind bars.
But what happens when the potential sex offender is himself a member of law enforcement? The answer, at least according to the Worcester, MA police department is "not much." Via Simple Justice comes this ugly story of police protectionism.
The handling of the case involving former Worcester Police Officer Neil Shea and his ensnarement in a sting operation targeting sex predators might have some wondering whether the priority of law enforcement is to protect and serve the community, or to protect and serve itself. The story begins with an investigation being run by an undercover officer who, while pretending to be a 14-year-old girl, engaged Officer Shea (Latenightcop171) in this conversation:
Latenightcop171 — So you want to learn things Shortly thereafter, the undercover cop went offline to track down any information on Latenightcop171. The cellphone number provided by Latenightcop171 led back to Officer Shea. Moments after this discovery, the investigation was terminated.
Undercover — What can you teach me
Latenightcop171 — Lot of things
Latenightcop171 — We’d have sex
Undercover — Of course silly, but anything special or weird.
We know that once his identity was discovered, someone from the command post alerted the Worcester Police Department Detective Bureau, which confirmed that Mr. Shea was indeed a member of the department. Any normal investigation would have continued until the "line" was crossed but in this case, in order to keep one of their own from incriminating himself further, the Detective Bureau called off their own investigator. And it looks as if Officer Shea would have gone further, if given the chance.
We know that once this confirmation was made someone decided to terminate the conversation with Mr. Shea.
We know that the termination was suggested by the Worcester Detective Bureau on the grounds that if Officer Shea had not at that point made “any offers, or broken any law, and that he had not crossed the line, then we should just move on to other more promising subjects.”
We also learned that later, after the undercover officer went offline, law enforcement officials later went back to check the transcript of the chat room conversation and found that “Latenightcop171” had made additional contact, including leaving a friend request. The District Attorney's office denies any involvement in the investigation's termination. Police Chief Gemme, however, claims the termination call was made by an on-scene police supervisor who decided that there was "insufficient evidence to pursue a criminal complaint."
What Gemme says is inarguably true, but only because the investigation was shut down, not because any of Officer Shea's actions up to that point indicated he did not want to pursue this further. While it's true that some people have walked up to the precipice (so to speak) and peered over it before deciding to step away, we'll never know for sure if Officer Shea was one of them. Instead, he was met at the precipice by his employers, who carried with them a taxpayer-funded safety net.
Officer Shea obviously wasn't going to be able to escape this situation unscathed, but what he ended up with is a lot more than any average citizen in the same position could possibly expect.
We are told Mr. Shea did not commit any crime, but that it was determined by Police Chief Gary Gemme that Mr. Shea committed several violations, including incompetence, neglect of duty and conduct unbecoming an officer. Officer Shea ducked a pedophile sting (with some inside help) and exited with a full pension. This works out well for him, and keeps the Worcester PD from having to dirty its hands any further. But, as The Telegram asks, how does this help the community? You know, the same community Officer Shea was supposed to be protecting from criminal activity like this?
Mr. Shea resigned before the investigation, in which all allegations were sustained, was completed. He is free to receive all retirement benefits.
Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice asks the same question, only in a much more righteously furious tone. What "line" does the Worcester PD actually think needs to be crossed before someone like Officer Shea is forced out without collecting benefits?
After all, there is nothing a police officer can do, not even roaming the interwebz to find teenage girls in his community with whom to chat about sexual liaisons, that warrants stripping a cop of his pension. For anyone who doesn't appreciate the importance of the pension, this should make it abundantly clear, as not even his pedophile conduct was sufficient to push him over the line of denying him a pension. As Greenfield suggests, the next time someone starts wringing their hands about child predators roaming the 'net, be sure to point out that those actively engaged in countering this threat were forced to cut a potential sex offender loose simply because he was one of the "good guys." How does this police department, in good conscience, sell out its own community in order to keep a fellow officer from being incarcerated or stripped of his benefits? How can they look their fellow citizens in the eye and claim they're here to serve and protect the public?
While the mere inquiry, without further action toward making contact happen, may not have pushed this conduct from "unbecoming" to criminal, the termination of the sting before Shea took the next step of setting up a meeting with his new 14-year-old friend precluded his prosecution and, upon conviction, the end of his ability to entice little girls to have sex with him...
Anybody want to bet that all the parents of teenage girls in Worcester are cool with the fact that they are not only paying Shea's pension, but that he's still got unfettered internet access to chat up their babies?