Monthly Archives: June 2012

Chicago OKs tickets for small amounts of marijuana

CHICAGO –  The Chicago City Council on Wednesday approved a measure that would allow police officers to ticket people found with small amounts of marijuana instead of arresting them.

Aldermen voted 43-3 in favor of the ordinance, under which anyone in possession of 15 grams of marijuana — roughly the equivalent of 15 marijuana cigarettes — faces a fine between $250 and $500.

Both Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy support the ordinance, and a marked jump in Chicago’s homicide rate may have given the proposal more steam. Homicides are up by about 50 percent so far this year compared to the same period last year.

Several aldermen said the new law will allow police to spend more time on street patrols and less on processing people for the minor offense of possessing small amounts of marijuana. Alderman Danny Solis, who sponsored the measure, estimated the city would receive $7 million a year in revenue.

States across the country are starting to relax their laws on marijuana possession. This month alone, governors in Rhode Island and New York moved toward decriminalization of small amounts of the drug. Of the 8,625 misdemeanor marijuana cases between 2006 and 2010 in Cook County, about 87 percent were dismissed, according to statistics from the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court.

The vote was not a surprise. Last week, while the council’s Public Safety Committee expressed concern that the ordinance would send the wrong message about drug use to young people, the aldermen on the committee voted 13-1 to approve the measure.

The ordinance was first proposed last November by Solis, who said that he did not ask his fellow aldermen to vote on it as a favor to Emanuel, who asked him to hold off until the police department could study the issue.

Emanuel and McCarthy suggested at the time that they were open to the idea of such an ordinance and earlier this month both came out in favor of it.

When he first introduced the ordinance, Solis talked extensively about how the millions of dollars the cash-strapped city could see as a result of ticketing for possession of small amounts of marijuana and giving a fine rather than having it be a misdemeanor that carries jail time.

Solis and others also expressed concern that the current law might not be enforced fairly, with Solis presenting statistics showing thousands of more arrests in predominantly black and Hispanic wards in the last decade than in affluent and predominantly white neighborhoods. Besides, they said, the arrests are a waste of time because the majority of those taken into custody see their charges dropped anyway.

But by the time Emanuel and McCarthy endorsed the ordinance, the biggest argument was tied to the city’s surging homicide rate. Allowing police officers to write tickets for small marijuana amounts would mean that they could stay on the street in the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods rather than in the station going through the time-consuming task of processing someone for a minor offense.

In a statement, McCarthy said that the arrests of more than 18,000 people for misdemeanor possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana “tied up more than 45,000 police hours” and that the “new ordinance nearly cuts that time in half … freeing up cops to address more serious crime.”

Solis agreed, saying that such an ordinance would mean the poorer neighborhoods on the city’s south and west sides would not see police officers disappear for hours at a time as they do now when they make an arrest for those found with small amounts of marijuana.

“The police officer is now going to be more in the neighborhoods that need him or her than in the district doing paperwork,” Solis said earlier this month.

via Fox News

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Michigan State Police to probe online degrees used by Fraser cops

FRASER, Mich. (WXYZ) – Michigan state police have officially begun an investigation into the online degree allegations swirling around the Fraser Police department.

A 7 Action News investigation revealed a dozen officers, 10 patrolmen and two sergeants have, for years collected educational bonus dollars for bachelor degrees in criminal justice, purchased online from Almeda University in the Caribbean.

For several hundred dollars, but no classes – study or exams – Almeda bestowed the degrees to the officers, who then presented them to Fraser’s human resources department for credit and several thousand dollars in annual cash bonuses.

A credible source inside city hall confirms Michigan state police have assigned a case number and detectives to try and determine if the officers committed fraud when they knowingly presented the degrees for extra pay.

A Michigan law known as the “Academic Credentials in Education Act”, signed by the governor in the summer of 2005, made it illegal to use a “false academic credential to obtain employment…a promotion…or higher compensation in employment.”

Fraser’s Public Safety director George Rouhib defended his officers last week as he told city council “There’s no criminal act here. This is nothing but a contract dispute, but now, there’s civil ramifications attached to it. This is all this is. You cannot prove criminal intent on these officers.”

Fraser Mayor Doug Hagerty has called for “an outside investigation.”

Former county prosecutor and long-time defense attorney Neil Rockind called the decision of the officers to present the online, unaccredited degrees to the city as “ very deliberate, and it’s very premeditated…and their actions should be examined by a criminal prosecutor.”

via WXYZ.com

Former prosecutor says an investigation is needed into Fraser cops’ degrees

FRASER, Mich. (WXYZ) – For the second time, a high ranking officer in Fraser’s department of public safety has defended as “a mistake, but not a criminal act” the actions of a dozen police officers who used unaccredited, online degrees to get years of educational bonuses.

Now a former county prosecutor says an investigation by an outside agency should be conducted to determine if those officers have committed a crime.

We’ve told you about the online degrees, purchased by a dozen Fraser officers over the years so they could get extra pay.

Last night the city’s public safety director said what they did isn’t criminal, but a contract dispute, a misunderstanding.

But a respected defense lawyer who was an assistant Oakland County prosecutor for four years says what he has understood from our investigation leads him to a simple conclusion: an investigation of the facts could lead to felony fraud charges against the officers, based on Michigan’s criminal law.

“Actually paying for degrees online is really offensive,” said Neil Rockind. “People have to work hard for degrees.”

Rockind says he has followed the 7 Action News investigation of a dozen Fraser officers, collecting thousands in educational bonuses for years, after presenting the city with “life-experience” degrees from Almeda University, an online diploma mill widely discredited by several states and the federal government.

Because the officers turned a degree into the city, knowing they didn’t earn it, as they had while taking classes to get the associates degree required to become police officers, Rockind says he believes their actions were “very deliberate, and it’s very premeditated and their actions should be examined by a criminal prosecutor.”

7 Action News was the only station in last night’s Fraser city council meeting where public safety director George Rouhib defended his officers, saying, “There’s no criminal act here. This is nothing but a contract dispute but now there’s civil ramifications attached to it. This is all this is. You cannot prove criminal intent on these officers.”

However, specific acts of the individual officers, Rockind says, should lead to an investigation and a determination if criminal charges should be filed against all 12 officers.

“They were at a certain pay level,” Rockind said. “They wanted more money. They couldn’t get that money on their own. And, they obtained a phony degree and they presented (to the city) something that was false, fraudulent, and that’s a crime.”

Then Rockind added, “This is the sort of double standard that people, the general public fear from those who are part and parcel of the court system.”

In last night’s special city council meeting, councilwoman Kathy Blanke wondered if the internal police department investigation, where criminal investigations commander Lt. Dan Kolke concluded “there were no criminal acts by these officers” was enough to simply move on.

“I don’t know how much more we can possibly get from an investigation with (an agency outside of) public safety,” said Blanke.

Councilwoman Barbara Jennings wanted to know “who can we try to recover this money from?”

City Manager Rich Haberman estimates the lose to the city for paying educational bonus to the 12 officers since 2003 amounts to about $100,000.

Council voted to sue Almeda University, and stop paying educational bonuses to the officers who submitted online degrees for extra cash. They took no action on the issue of requesting a Michigan State Police investigation, as Mayor Doug Hagerty wants.

via WXYZ.com

Fraser tries to deal with fall out over controversial online degrees

FRASER, Mich. (WXYZ) – Fraser city officials are at odds over what to do about police officers who got a pay raise based on a college degree they bought online.

Some are demanding the money be repaid. Others want an outside investigation to determine if former city officials either knew or encouraged officers to present the degrees for credit.

In a recent city council meeting, a high ranking police officer told the council that they better get ready for a fight.

Fraser Police Lt. Dan Kolke, a 22-year veteran of the police department, told the council and a packed chamber last Thursday, he did an internal investigation concerning the degrees.

Kolke said, “The two items we found…I can’t go into detail with this … is, it’s either a contract issue, or a public act issue.”

Kolke also made reference to a Michigan law called the Authentic Credentials in Education Act that was passed in 2005. It says, in part, that “an individual shall not knowingly use a false academic credential to obtain employment; to obtain a promotion, or higher compensation in employment.”

Some city council members want the officers to pay back at least seven years worth of educational bonus dollars. The degrees allowed the officers to get a pay raise between $1,000 and $3,000 a year .

Councilman Paul Cilluffo told the audience, “The most important thing, and I’ve said right from the beginning – we have to recoup those dollars and somebodies got to be accountable for it.”

But Cilluffo did not say how they would recoup the pay, adding, “How we get them, I don’t know yet.”

An Associate’s Degree is required to become a Fraser policeman. If an officer gets an additional college degree, they get paid more. That’s why some officers purchased a degree online for about $400 – without having to take a class or do any work.

The certificate says they have a Bachelor of Science with a major in Criminal Justice. It comes from Almeda University, an on-line operation on the Caribbean Island of Nevus. The U.S. Department of Education says the university is not accredited.

Fraser Mayor Doug Hagerty wants an outside agency to investigate.

“I do not believe that 12 officers all stepped off and made an erroneous decision to go get a degree from Almeda,” said Hagerty.

He then pointed to past city administrations.

“There had to be something that was happening in the management structure, something that allowed them to feel comfortable enough to jump off on this,” added Hagerty.

Councilwoman Kathy Blanke said, “We just want to come to a fact finding, a fair way. It’s our tax dollars.”

But Lieutenant Kolke fired back. He said it looks like a civil matter, based on his internal investigation.

Kolke then warned, “Believe it or not, our guys are dealing with this and it can be handled. But, they’re talking suing the city if things go wrong.”

Kolke didn’t elaborate on what could go wrong. But tomorrow night at 7, Fraser City Council is set to meet again to discuss their options.

via WXYZ.com

Fraser police officers investigated for fake degrees

City manager says officers don’t really have degrees from Almeda University, city wants bonus money back

FRASER, Mich. –

A handful of Fraser patrol police officers are at the center of an investigation into whether they fudged education degrees in order to get pay raises.

Eight patrol officers and two sergeants collected between $3,000 and $5,000 a year education bonuses because they told their supervisors they had bachelors or master’s degrees from Almeda University.

Almeda University sits on the Caribbean island of Nevis. Its accreditation page says it is bound by “different rules that require a less elaborate and convoluted documentation of experiences and knowledge.”

Fraser city officials say the degrees are non-existent and want the bonus money back.

“Some credentials that are presented by statue are fraudulent and we can institute recovery, you can go after the officers to get the money,” Fraser City Manager Richard Haberman said.

The Police Department isn’t commenting, but has confirmed the problem.

Fraser’s mayor works part time and was out of the office Tuesday when Local 4 inquired. He told Local 4’s Rod Meloni by phone that his concerns are that because nearly a dozen officers are involved, and it’s been going on for a long time, that it may have been an institutional problem with previous city management.

He is asking for a full, independent state police investigation.

via Click on Detroit

Fraser City Council decides to stop paying education benefit to unaccredited degrees

FRASER, Mich. (WXYZ) – Talking about the long running, heated controversy about police officers using off-shore, on-line degrees to get extra cash, the top cop for the city of Fraser said “I’ve never been involved in something like this. It’s very confusing, confusing to me.”

George Rouhib, the public safety director for Fraser, was trying to defend 12 of his officers before Tuesday’s nights special city council meeting.

The names of the dozen officers have not been released.

Between 2003 and 2009, all but one of those officers presented to the city degrees like the one obtained by 7 Action News investigators, claiming at least a bachelors degree from Almeda University.

Almeda is an online operation in the Caribbean that has been harshly discredited in the United States as a diploma mill by everyone from the Department of Education who say it’s not accredited, to several states that don’t allow the degrees for education credits for public employees.

The debate on Fraser city council? Was it failed policies, and agreements between the city and the officers union that allowed the officers to be paid extra for the online degrees, when state law made it illegal to present them for cash or promotions in 2005?

Rouhib argued, “Nobody knows about this public act. The union attorneys never heard of it, that’s what they’re claiming. And certainly, the officers didn’t know anything about it.”

The city attorney explained the legislation, known as the the Authentic Credentials in Education Act, became state law in 2005.

It says, in part, that “an individual shall not knowingly use a false academic credential to obtain employment; to obtain a promotion, or higher compensation in employment.”

The public safety director, who has bachelor and masters degrees from Michigan schools said, he started raising red flags about the degrees as early as 2004, but the numbers of officers presenting the online degrees kept growing, while the city did nothing to stop it.

“So you know how that goes,” Rouhib said. “One officer puts it in and word gets out, and so they all put in for it, they thought it was okay.”

For now, the council has voted to stop paying the education benefit for online, unaccredited degrees, and to sue Almeda University.

The public safety director, council members and city officials, all spoke of changes in monitoring, and other processes going forward to better protect the city.

For the director of public safety, a final thought: “But the question is, can we move forward from here?”

via WXYZ.com