Mass. chief accused of "belly bumping"

By Kay Lazar
The Boston Globe

GLOUCESTER, Mass. First there was grumbling about shift assignments, then official grievances, followed by a lawsuit.

Now the tensions at the Gloucester Police Department have descended to a new level of ugliness: allegations of belly-bumping.

The city’s chief of police has been accused by his senior lieutenant of running into him stomach-first during a recent confrontation over the deployment of officers.

In a city that recently weathered two high-profile (and expensive) legal battles with members of its Police Department, the latest incident has brought renewed public attention to the increasing turmoil within police ranks.

The belly brouhaha stems from a seemingly mundane personnel decision Lieutenant Jerris Cook made Aug. 31. Cook, normally the watch commander for the 4 p.m. to midnight shift, swapped with a colleague and worked the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. rotation. He also made two changes on the roster, shifting the assignments of two patrolmen to neighborhoods closer to their homes.

At that point, according to a Sept. 6 letter Cook’s union sent to Mayor John Bell, an apparently infuriated Chief John Beaudette stood "just two inches from Lt. Cook, getting 'in his face,' and told Lt. Cook that he was starting trouble."

Things got worse from there, according to the letter.

Beaudette continued to confront his lieutenant, the letter states, "even physically bumping into Lt. Cook, at which point Lt. Cook asked, 'Are you bumping me?' " to which Chief Beaudette responded, "I just have a big belly."

The tense exchange ended, the letter said, with Beaudette warning Cook that “the gloves are off.”

Beaudette declined to comment yesterday, saying it is an internal issue.

Cook, a 30-year veteran of the force, said the incident has left him shaken.

“We are both armed with .40-caliber Glocks,” Cook, 61, said in a cellphone interview en route to his 4 p.m. to midnight shift as watch commander. “There seems to be a prevailing attitude in the station of a hostile work environment.”

Tensions within the department started rising three years ago, shortly after Bell promoted Beaudette to chief over two other officers who ranked higher on a civil service list. Beaudette started by ordering his staff to stop swapping their assigned shifts, an edict that triggered a successful grievance by the union.

Then Beaudette banned commanding officers from shifting patrol assignments on the daily roster. The union won that battle, too.

Now, the complaint about the belly-bumping incident, capped by Beaudette’s reported “gloves off” warning, has prompted the union to ask the mayor to investigate.

“We’re worried,” said John Becker, attorney for the Gloucester Superior Officers Association. “It’s something that needed to be exposed to the light of day.”

The mayor did not return phone calls. His chief administrative officer, Steve Magoon, said Bell received the union’s letter Monday and has not yet decided his next step.

“Any of those issues are appropriately dealt with within the administration and not in the newspaper,” he said.

This is hardly the first time discord within the police ranks has spilled into the public spotlight.

In January, Officer Stephen Lamberis, the department’s only African-American member, returned to work after a 17-month paid leave, after being accused by the chief of violating department policies. The city signed a confidential agreement with Lamberis to settle that case, and details of the alleged violations have not been disclosed. But city officials later acknowledged that Lamberis was paid his full salary, plus benefits during that time, in addition to a cash settlement.

Then the city settled a federal lawsuit this summer by an officer who said he was bypassed for promotion to lieutenant in 2005 because of his union work. In that settlement, Gloucester paid Sergeant John McCarthy $70,000 and agreed to pay him a lieutenant’s salary for two years, retroactive to Jan. 1. He was also promised the next lieutenant’s opening.

“There is a sense of no accountability in the department,” said former city councilor Jeff Worthley, who called for a management audit of the department two years ago while on the council.

Worthley, now one of seven candidates running for mayor, said the council approved the audit, but the mayor never funded the request.

The city’s charter requires such an audit every eight years. That has not been done, he said, in about 20 years.

Copyright 2007 Boston Globe

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