New York State Inspector General Letizia Tagliafierro today issued the findings of her office’s investigation of a New York State Police probe into overtime abuse and vehicle misuse by its members of the New York Drug Enforcement Task Force (DETF). The Inspector General’s investigation found that the State Police probe lacked transparency, led to inadequate disciplinary action for personnel, and allowed members who engaged in misconduct to retire “in good standing” without being held accountable.
“My office’s investigation uncovered a lack of controls among the State Police members of this important task force, creating an environment ripe for abuse with insufficient accountability and oversight,” said Inspector General Tagliafierro. “The State Police has implemented significant reforms in the wake of this investigation, but there is more work that must be done to ensure that the Drug Enforcement Task Force members are properly supervised.”
The DETF is a collaborative effort between the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the State Police, charged with combating illicit drug trafficking. The Inspector General initiated a review of the State Police’s probe of DETF members’ time and attendance, the related discipline, and the corrective actions implemented by the State Police.
A State Police review and subsequent investigation by the Inspector General of the DETF stemmed from a February 18, 2018 vehicular accident in Upstate New York involving a State Police senior investigator assigned to the DETF. The State Police reviewed the senior investigator’s work assignments, location of activities, and use of a DETF-assigned vehicle while off duty. Ultimately, the State Police found that the senior investigator abused overtime, misused a state vehicle and directed subordinates to falsify time records.
The State Police then expanded its probe to review the activities of all members assigned to the DETF, finding that certain members falsely claimed overtime. In addition, some members improperly used their assigned vehicles while off-duty and conducted surveillance contrary to State Police rules. Ultimately, the State Police internal investigation found that 12 members of the DETF warranted discipline.
However, the Inspector General found that the State Police failed to adequately discipline the members. Specifically:
• Four members retired before discipline could be issued.
• Eight DETF members were served with disciplinary “offers” in May 2019 which were accepted and included 3-5 days of suspension and/or the loss of 2-4 days of accrued annual leave. Of these eight members, four retired from the State Police and received “retirement in good standing” identification cards.
The State Police has since undergone changes in leadership, made staffing changes to the DETF and implemented significant protocols. The Inspector General recommends additional measures to further enhance accountability and increase transparency:
• Vehicle Use
o Prohibit DETF members residing more than 50 miles from New York City from commuting to and from their homes in assigned vehicles.
o Provide annual training to all State Police members on the proper response to motor vehicle accidents involving members.
o Create a specific checklist to govern the disciplinary process.
o Factor retirement and resignation into disciplinary decisions and require documentation in the member’s personnel file to ensure transparency.
o Involve Counsel’s Office at an earlier stage in the disciplinary process to confirm discipline is in accordance with past precedent.
o Seek restitution for time and attendance abuse.
• Internal Oversight and Audit
o Designate a Professional Standards Bureau (PSB) major as an integrity control officer to monitor overtime and vehicle usage by State Police DETF members.
o Conduct routine overtime audits for the top annual State Police earners
o Develop a plan to ensure compliance with new DETF protocols.
o Share results of audits and corrective actions with all supervisory members of a unit to ensure awareness of issues and prompt implementation.
o Implement annual ethics training for all DETF members, including time and attendance issues and supervisory duties.
o Require DETF members to understand and adhere to applicable DEA rules and regulations.
o While federal DETF training may be intermittent, the State Police should provide internal training for its DETF members.
o DETF supervisors should receive training focusing on the oversight of DETF members.
• DETF Composition and Operations
o Increase screening/vetting of DETF candidates before a member is assigned to the DETF, including a panel interview and expanded criteria beyond mere seniority.
o Members must have supervisory experience before becoming DETF supervisors.
o DETF members should be prohibited from transporting office supplies and evidence during overtime (unless during an emergency).
o Consider requiring all DETF members to live within 50 miles of New York City.
o Require DETF members to document all surveillance activities.
Additionally, the State Police should immediately refer all Level 3 and Level 4 personnel complaints to the Inspector General for review, continue monthly meetings between the State Police and Inspector General to confer on referrals, and provide documents to the Inspector General to confirm that new DETF protocols have been implemented and acknowledged by current DETF members.
The Inspector General thanked State Police Superintendent Keith M. Corlett and its members for their cooperation in the investigation.
The report, “Investigation of the New York State Division of State Police Drug Enforcement Task Force” is online.