Representatives from Chauffeurs, Teamsters & Helpers, Local Union 491 of Uniontown said they welcome an independent investigation of the Brownsville Police Department, and said claims made against borough officers are “misleading.”
Following several complaints made during council meetings, Councilman John Hosler suggested the council contact the FBI to investigate the claims. Residents have contended that officers use excessive force during and after arrests, while intimidating others. In addition, Hosler requested the FBI look into pornography that was reportedly located on a borough computer.
More than 30 people have filed complaints, indicating they would like to speak to the FBI, according to Hosler. Earlier this month, an FBI spokeswoman confirmed the agency was contacted, but would not say whether they were investigating the allegations.
The union fully supports the investigation, according to Vito Dragone Jr., secretary and treasurer for Local 491.
Allegations of this nature have a way of impacting the way the officers perform their duties and need to be addressed, he said.
“Local 491 is convinced that an outside investigation is now necessary in view of the negative publicity brought on by Councilman Hosler,” Dragone said. “Local 491 is confident that a fair, unbiased investigation will reveal that the complaints reported to your newspaper are meritless.”
Residents who are involved in drug activity have a motive to complain about police treatment, he added.
“The fact is that the department, its police officers, and the law-abiding citizens of the borough will benefit from a thorough investigation into these questionable claims,” Dragone said in a letter to the Herald-Standard.
“That segment of our community stands to gain if the police officers are harassed and intimidated into backing down from their efforts to fight that criminal activity,” he added.
The officers are doing a “tremendous job under very difficult circumstances,” Dragone said in a letter.
Facing an influx of drugs and drug-related crime, the police department must do more with less but has recorded more arrests in recent years. The department reported eight criminal charges for drug-related activity in 2006, Dragone said. By 2011, there were 48 charges filed.
The number continues to increase, Dragone said. In 2013, more than 40 criminal charges of drug-related activity have been reported, he said.
“These numbers bear out the stepped-up law enforcement efforts of the borough police in the past four years,” Dragone said.
At the center of this effort to fight crime, Sgt. John Brant is responsible for more than half of the drug related arrests in 2012, Dragone said. As the handler for K-9 officer Ace, Brant has been a valuable asset in locating illegal drugs, Dragone added.
Despite the department’s arrest numbers, Bob Eberle, an attorney in Pittsburgh that represents Local 491, said the department is still under fire. Officers have said they are now being filmed while in uniform and are being questioned about the allegations at traffic stops, he said.
“It makes them reluctant,” Eberle said. “They get nervous about it. They think, ‘Am I better letting this situation go past, or do I keep doing what I know I am supposed to do and get in trouble?’ That’s not a healthy thing when that starts happening.”
While verbal complaints about officers have increased at recent council meetings, Hosler said he was receiving daily phone calls about the department and its officers.
“I don’t think anybody in here has the right to judge any police officers,” he said at a council meeting in April. “Let some outsiders do it.”
There is a procedure to follow when residents want to lodge a complaint against an officer. The complaints must first be filed, in writing, with police Chief Stanley Jablonsky, Dragone said.
He noted that many residents who have lodged complaints at meetings, including Albert DeSalvo and Angela Perkins, have not followed that protocol.
“Each of the other complaints was investigated and ultimately cleared,” Dragone said. “There has not been one instance of a valid complaint of officer mistreatment toward anyone.”
The Teamsters union is also adamant that the pornography found on the borough computer has no connection with the police department. Everyone involved in the borough’s government has access to the computer, Dragone said.