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Sunday, November 30, 2008

[NY] Desk Duty in a paramilitary organization

...Officers who have been on desk duty say the stigma is hard to erase in a paramilitary organization that values the solidarity that comes with wearing the same uniform and facing the same dangers. "Modified duty is purgatory"...

[The article does not touch on the topic of remorse, learning from one's past errors, or on officers taking personal responsibility for how they ended up on desk duty.]


New York Times, United States
November 30, 2008
[Excerpts] Some monitor surveillance cameras in housing projects. Others escort prisoners to court or check in patrol cars. And some, true to the police lingo, really do sit behind a desk, shuffling papers and answering phones. These jobs are known as desk duty, a generic phrase in the Police Department for a range of jobs to which hundreds of officers have been reassigned over the years. Pulled off the streets, stripped of guns and badges, kept inside four walls and away - as much as possible - from the public, officers who are put on desk duty because their conduct is under investigation find themselves far from the enforcement activities they signed up to do. "We like to call it the 'cellblock' because it is like you are in prison," said an officer who spent more than 18 months watching surveillance video while authorities investigated an accusation that he had struck a suspect... "It is the worst place in the world if you enjoy being a police officer," he said. "You sit at a desk and stare at 30 monitors."... Levied against anyone from a rookie patrol cop to a 20-year decorated detective, the desk duty reassignment is a great equalizer. There are no assumptions of guilt or innocence or nods to rank... "Doing court paperwork, moving prisoners, driving delivery vehicles - it is a range of glamourless jobs," said Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who is a former police officer and prosecutor in New York City. "You are unarmed most of the time and everybody knows that you are sort of disabled by the fact that you are not on full duty," he said. "There is almost a universal stigma to it." The Police Department's chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne, said that it was a necessary tool. "Prudence and good order in a police department dictate that at times certain personnel be relieved of their enforcement duties," he said... Police unions have accused the department of using desk duty for political reasons, such as in high-profile cases, which the department denies. Unions have also complained that it is too open-ended, with an officer sometimes desk-bound even after being cleared. Some officers say the department sometimes intentionally assigns officers to desk-duty jobs requiring a long commute, an unofficial form of punishment known as toll therapy... Officers who have been on desk duty say the stigma is hard to erase in a paramilitary organization that values the solidarity that comes with wearing the same uniform and facing the same dangers. "Modified duty is purgatory," said Rae Koshetz, a lawyer who once worked in the Police Department handling internal trials... "It is a dumping ground," said the officer from the surveillance unit. "The connotation is that you are a screw-up" Lt. Michael W. Pigott, a veteran emergency services officer, gave an order on Sept. 24 to an officer in Brooklyn to fire a Taser at an emotionally disturbed man, who then fell 10 feet and suffered a fatal head injury. The Police Department said the order appeared to have violated guidelines that said Tasers should not be used when a person could fall from an elevated surface. Soon after Lieutenant Pigott was ordered to work the desk at Fleet Services Division in Queens, which handles police vehicles, he committed suicide. While Lieutenant Pigott wrote in a suicide note that he feared criminal prosecution, a detective who worked with him, Stephen Dillon, said he seemed hurt by the decision to put him on desk duty and take his gun. Since he was cleared in the Diallo shooting, Officer Boss has been unsuccessfully fighting in court to be restored to full duty with his weapon, saying that his colleagues have ridiculed him with the name "Kenny No-Gun." The Police Department has refused, saying that the public would be upset if he were rearmed, and that the department would be prejudged if he were ever involved in another shooting. "I was a very proactive patrol cop and anticrime officer," he said. "It is demoralizing. It breaks my heart." [Full article here]

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