EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 5, 2013

Editorial: Political meddling with police force must end

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Once again, it is clear that political loyalty is the top requirement for a job in Lawrence municipal government.

An internal investigation into complaints filed by Lawrence auxiliary police officers determined that three auxiliary officers had been promoted over more deserving members of the force.

The three promoted in December 2010 were Jorge Tejera, Tomas Santiago and Jose Montas. All three worked for Mayor William Lantigua’s election campaign in 2009 and their promotions came at the insistence of Deputy Chief Melix Bonilla, according to an internal investigation report. Bonilla, who was the manager of Lantigua’s campaign, was himself promoted from sergeant to deputy chief following Lantigua’s election.

Auxiliary police are unpaid volunteers used to supplement the regular police force, performing minor duties such as traffic control. However, their badges and experience give them an advantage when applying for private security work. The job can also serve as a stepping stone to the regular police force.

The promotions represent the worst abuses of political power — appointing the politically connected to positions of authority without regard for their ability to do the job. It is a betrayal of the people one was elected to represent, displaying contempt for their interests in favor of the enhancement of one’s own political power.

As reported by The Eagle-Tribune’s Keith Eddings, the investigation found that the promotions came over the private objections of auxiliary police Chief Jay Jackson. Bonilla rode roughshod over the auxiliary chief and ordered Jackson to promote the three officers over others in line for advancement, according to the report. Bonilla threatened Jackson with the loss of his job if he refused. Jackson issued the promotions and spoke favorably of them in public.

Bonilla’s lawyer says the deputy chief never threatened Jackson to make the promotions.

All three of the promoted officers work day jobs in city schools as security officers or custodians. All three work night jobs as bouncers in local nightclubs as part of a business run by Montas.

None of the three officers is still with the auxiliary force. Santiago was relieved of duty in 2011 after being arrested for driving drunk with a revoked license. He was wearing his police uniform at the time. Tejera has not reported for a shift in more than a year. Montas quit six months after his promotion as his security business was taking off.

This isn’t the only time Bonilla is alleged to have bullied Jackson to get his way. According to transcripts of grand jury testimony, Bonilla also threatened Jackson with the loss of his job to force through a swap of police vehicles with a Lantigua-connected car dealer. Jackson is also responsible for the management of the Police Department’s vehicle fleet.

Jackson himself is not entirely a victim. A separate internal investigation found that Jackson had sexually harassed men under his command. Jackson was disciplined for his actions.

The Lantigua administration’s meddling with the Police Department is damaging to morale and jeopardizes public safety in the city. Chief John Romero has worked hard to build a department in which hard work and discipline is rewarded. The granting of promotions to those who have done political service for the mayor undermines that effort and weakens the department.

The people of Lawrence should not tolerate the use of their police department as a dispensary of political favors to the connected few.