North Providence Police have no confidence in acting chief

By: Elisha Kay Aldrich

Last Friday, North Providence Police union has cast a 90 percent vote of no confidence in the acting chief, Lieutenant Christopher Pelagio.

Pelagio was appointed acting chief in December of 2014, but according to a media release sent out by the department, they have “been frustrated with the leadership of the North Providence Police Department for quite some time.”

There was supposed to be a search for a permanent chief after Pelagio took command, but there has been no such search. The release goes on to say that North Providence had already been without a chief for about three years, and is now going on five.

“A situation that would not appear to be tolerated in any other Rhode Island community,” the release says.
There are several examples of Pelagio’s apparent lack of leadership, which include a lack of desire to resolve any grievances filed by the union, almost no promotions or staffing decisions and no motivation to hire new officers, even though the department’s staffing levels are “dangerously low.”

Pelagio is also at risk of a conflict of interest. Because Pelagio is still considered a lieutenant, he is still eligible for union membership, even though he is the acting chief.

“The Acting Chief has attended union meetings and in that capacity, has advocated on behalf of certain union members whom he is close with, and against others, displaying an appearance of favoritism unbecoming of the position of Chief,” the release says.

The North Providence Police Department has called for the appointment of a new chief in order to take the department in a new direction.

Below is a copy of the press release in its entirety:

PRESS RELEASE 

For Immediate Release:

February 8, 2016

NORTH PROVIDENCE POLICE OFFICER’S UNION VOTES "NO CONFIDENCE" IN ACTING CHIEF OF POLICE

The Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge #13, the union which represents Town of North Providence Police Officers has voted No Confidence in Acting Police Chief Christopher Pelagio. In votes cast by the union members, 90% voted that they have no confidence in the Acting Chief. The vote was held on Friday, February 5, 2016.

Lieutenant Christopher Pelagio was appointed Acting Chief in December 2014. The members of FOP, Lodge 13, have been frustrated with the leadership of the North Providence Police Department for some time. Our last contract negotiation took several years to complete. Before the contract was finally resolved, the FOP was forced to file unfair labor practice charges with the 2 State Labor Relations Board as a result of Departmental interference with the Union’s internal election and removal of the K9.

When Lt. Pelagio assumed command of the Department, it was said that the Town would conduct a search for a permanent police chief given the Department had already been without one for about three years. Since Lt. Pelagio’s appointment as Acting Chief, it does not appear that the Town has made any effort to conduct a search or process for hiring a permanent Chief to lead this Department. The North Providence Police Department has now had no permanent leader for about five years – a situation that would not appear to be tolerated in any other Rhode Island community.

This No Confidence vote is a symbolic gesture of our member’s long–building desire for a new direction for this Department.

The members of FOP, Lodge 13 do not believe that Acting Chief Pelagio is capable of leading the Department in a new direction because, to date, he has displayed a lack of the necessary leadership skills and support among the membership. The following are just a few examples of his lack of leadership which have led to a decrease in morale amongst the majority of officers.

  • The Acting Chief has expressed a lack of desire and/or willingness to attempt to resolve any grievances filed by FOP, Lodge 13. At present, there are approximately 25 grievances pending, all of which were denied by the Acting Chief with little or no discussion or consideration of the merits. Many of these grievances could be resolved with simple communication between the Chief and Union leadership. When a grievance is not resolved, it results in additional legal expenses for the Town in the event it is arbitrated. When grievances are not resolved the officers become frustrated with the Acting Chief’s lack of response or recognition of concerns. Cooperative resolution of grievances improves morale and mutual respect which presently does not exist in this Department.
  • The Acting Chief has not made timely promotions or staffing decisions. At present, several of the grievances relate to the Chief’s failure to fill vacancies within the 45 days proscribed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement or to otherwise make timely assignments. There have been a number of occasions when officers are entitled to be promoted by the CBA, but the Acting Chief has not acted and/or has not advocated on behalf of these members to be timely promoted or assigned, leading to a decrease in morale.
  • There is presently a dangerously low staffing level. Although the Department is authorized for 66 officers, the Department is presently at 57 officers. With this knowledge, the Acting Chief has failed to adequately plan to restore staffing levels and has not placed any candidates in the Municipal Police Academy that began in January 2016. Because of that failure, this Department will not see an increase in the number of officers for the next 12 months. 
  • During the next 12 months, several officers will be eligible to retire, meaning that the Department is at risk of even lower staffing, which creates a risk to the public safety of this Town.
  • Because the Acting Chief is still technically a Lieutenant, he is still a member of the union. This creates a significant conflict of interest for the Acting Chief – he is probably the only Chief in the State who is still a union member. The Acting Chief has attended union meetings and in that capacity, has advocated on behalf of certain union members whom he is close with, and against others, displaying an appearance of favoritism unbecoming of the position of Chief. This type of action has interfered with the union’s ability to conduct internal business consistent with its duty of fair representation.
  • The Acting Chief refused to work with the FOP to resolve eligibility issues for a pending promotional exam. He has employed favoritism in the process. The FOP filed a grievance on this issue. The Chief denied the grievance and forced the FOP to seek an injunction to stop the test pending arbitration. The Town has now agreed to expedited arbitration, but a resolution of this issue could have been reached months ago had the Acting Chief simply worked with the FOP.
  • The Acting Chief’s overall attitude toward the majority of the members of the Department does not promote morale or confidence in his ability to move this Department forward in a positive manner.

To this end, the members feel that the Acting Chief’s leadership skills are lacking and have led to a breakdown in the relationship between management and the majority of the members of the Department. The members of FOP, Lodge 13, call for the hiring of a permanent Chief who can lead this Department. The members of FOP, Lodge 13, take pride in our work and service to the community and will continue to do so. But for too long, this situation has been allowed to exist and thus, the overwhelming number of officers have taken this symbolic vote in the hopes of obtaining future change and improvements to the working conditions of the officers of the North Providence Police Department.

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