Officer fired in police sting

`Integrity check' leads to dismissal, chief says

Criminal charges pondered

New hire failed to report found cash, sources say

Howard County

August 29, 2002|By Lisa Goldberg and Jason Song | Lisa Goldberg and Jason Song,SUN STAFF

A Howard County police officer who was hired less than a year ago has been fired after a police sting operation in which he was accused of mishandling money, police officials and sources said this week.

Police officials would not identify the officer, but several sources familiar with the investigation said the officer's last name is Oden. They identified him as a former Baltimore City officer who was hired by Howard County.

Howard Police Chief Wayne Livesay also would not provide details of the sting - which he termed an "integrity check" - mentioning personnel rules. He would confirm only that such an operation occurred Aug. 21 and led to an officer's dismissal Aug. 22.

He said that such stings are not done at random but are employee-specific.

"We do not throw down $20 bills and see who picks them up. That's not what we do," he said. "There has to be a reason for this."

Livesay would not elaborate on what led police officials to conduct an "integrity check" on Oden.

Two sources said this week that the sting, which was coordinated by the Police Department's internal affairs division, started with a fake call to Oakland Mills village in Columbia for a complaint of teen-agers using in-line skates.

With the area under surveillance by police, the officer arrived and found no teen-agers, but an undercover investigator handed him a backpack containing money, the sources said.

When the officer failed to turn in the backpack and money by the end of his shift Aug. 21 - the department's general orders contain specific instructions for handling found money - internal affairs investigators confronted him, and he told them he found the owner and returned the backpack, the sources said.

The backpack was later found discarded - without the money, the sources said. Sources differed in their descriptions of the amount of money involved.

It was unclear yesterday how much money was involved.

Oden was immediately suspended, and he was fired the next day, officials said.

Sources said that as a new employee, the officer was on probation and thus could be fired without union protections.

While the "integrity check" was not the first conducted by the department, Livesay said this week that he does not remember any that "turned out this way."

Police officials are considering criminal charges, he said.

And he said he thinks that, in general, such operations are viewed in a "positive" light by rank-and-file officers. The department has more than 350 sworn officers, Livesay said.

James F. Fitzgerald, the president of the county police union, concurred, saying that officers support such checks. He declined to comment on the sting operation.

"I've never known the Police Department or chief of police to go out head-hunting," he said. "If information comes to them and says this officer is goofing off, then it's up to the [department] to check on them to see if they're doing their job."

"Any good organization has to have checks and balances on their officers," Fitzgerald said.

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