Should this sergeant's off-color, off-duty behavior be grounds for suspension and possible termination? Are his rights to free speech being violated? Or should officers be held to a higher standard--on-duty and off--when it comes to participating in activities that are very likely going to be considered offensive?
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By WAYNE PARRY
Associated Press Writer
NEWARK, N.J.- Did you hear the one about the off-duty cop with the raunchy comedy act?
His superiors at the West Orange Police Department sure did, and they suspended Sgt. John Feder for it.
The 22-year veteran, known in comedy circles as "Club Soda Kenny," a name he picked up as part of potty-mouthed comedian Andrew Dice Clay's posse, is facing departmental charges that could lead to the loss of his $88,000-per-year job.
The hearing will likely hinge on whether the officer's free speech rights conflict with his responsibilities as a public servant.
His act is not for the faint of heart. It includes jokes about rape, having sex with his dog and sexually abusing his own 5-year-old son.
"This came as quite a shock," said police Chief James Abbott. "This is not something we would have expected."
But Feder's lawyer, Paul Bergrin, says department brass have known about Feder's nightclub act - and its raunchy content - for more than 15 years.
"They knew what his standup comedy routine was, and they passively agreed to his performing it," Bergrin said. "He took a leave of absence - which was granted - about 10 years ago to go out on the road and perform with Andrew Dice Clay.
"This is an officer with an exemplary record, no prior disciplinary action," Bergrin said. "They're crucifying this guy who put his own life on the line for them for more than 20 years."
Feder once worked as a bodyguard for Clay, who would occasionally let him wander onto the stage and deliver a few jokes himself, only to be dismissed with the line "get me a club soda, Kenny." That's where he got his stage name.
He has appeared regularly at area comedy clubs, as well as on XM Satellite Radio's "Opie and Anthony" radio show.
The content of his act violated the department's professional code of conduct, Abbott said.
"The public needs to feel that when they come to a public agency to report a crime, whether it be as a rape victim or the victim of pedophilia, they'll be taken seriously and that the officers don't consider it a joking matter," the chief said.
But Bergrin said Feder has never mentioned his police work in his standup act.
"He has never represented himself as a police officer in his act, and the public would have no way of knowing he was a police officer," Bergrin said.
He also said Feder did not actually engage in any of the conduct he jokes about in his act.
"It's all just entertainment for his audience," Bergrin said. "He is absolutely against all those activities."
Someone sent a CD of Feder's act to police and government officials in West Orange, prompting an internal investigation that led to departmental charges. Bergrin suspects the disc was recorded by an officer who was investigated by Feder, who works in the department's internal affairs division.
The hearing is scheduled for Feb. 23, but may be postponed, both sides said Wednesday.
Feder, a married father of two, will not be paid during his suspension.
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To voice your opinion on this story, e-mail P1 News Editor Lindsay Gebhart at email@example.com