After arrests, Providence to test police for illegal drugs

By Ray Henry
Associated Press / March 9, 2010

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PROVIDENCE - Police officers here will soon undergo random testing for illegal drug use after three of them were arrested last week in a narcotics sting, Mayor David Cicilline said yesterday.

The announcement was made after State Police charged three officers with participating in a cocaine ring, including a detective assigned to a US Drug Enforcement Administration task force and an officer who once served as Cicilline’s driver and is the husband of the mayor’s executive assistant.

Cicilline, a Democrat, is running to succeed US Representative Patrick Kennedy, who recently announced he would not seek reelection. Cicilline faces a former Democratic Party chairman, Bill Lynch, in the primary.

“Maintaining the integrity of today’s department requires the vigilance and commitment of every one of us, including the members of the department themselves,’’ said Cicilline, who asked the city police union to support the drug testing requirement during a City Hall news conference. Officials from the Fraternal Order of Police did not return a telephone call seeking comment yesterday.

The arrested officers are Detective Joseph Colanduono of the narcotics division; Patrolman Robert Hamlin, who is a school resource officer; and Sergeant Stephen Gonsalves, Cicilline’s former driver. Each has been suspended without pay. The officers have not entered pleas yet, and their lawyers have not commented on the case.

Six drug suspects have also been arrested. More people could be implicated. Police said four additional officers have been placed on administrative duty because at least one of the defendants arrested in the State Police investigation accused them of wrongdoing. Police Chief Dean Esserman refused to name the officers or explain the accusations.

The arrests followed a four-month investigation during which State Police intercepted phone calls from the Providence officers and recorded surveillance video of them. Police seized several hundred grams of cocaine and firearms as part of the investigation.

Investigators allege Hamlin tipped off his brother, who is accused of being a drug dealer and was a target of the probe, to the names of narcotics detectives and provided him with information on their vehicles. Colanduono is accused of helping facilitate drug deals, while police say Gonsalves bought cocaine to use.

Esserman said Providence officers who test positive for drugs in the future should be immediately fired. Under existing rules, police officers are tested when they are hired or when a supervisor reasonably suspects them of drug abuse. Those who test positive can keep their jobs if they seek treatment and pass future drug tests.

Besides random testing, Cicilline has ordered Esserman to consider whether officers should be rotated out of the narcotics division more frequently and review how they are supervised when assigned to work with other law agencies.