Posted by: vote4claxton | November 24, 2004

FAULTY EQUIPMENT PLACES POLICE OFFICERS IN DANGER

Radio Signal Failed on Day of Deaths

By GEOFFREY GRAY, Staff Reporter of the Sun | November 23, 2004

The problems with police audio transmitting devices had long been known before undercover detectives Rodney Andrews and James Nemorin last departed the police department’s Firearms Investigation Unit, on their way to making a buy-and-bust at Staten Island last year.

The small, clandestine devices – called “Kels,” after the Massachusetts manufacturing company that makes them – were low-wattage and outdated. The radio signals would frequently get lost within the canyons of city skyscrapers.

“Some days they work, some days they don’t,” one detective said.

On the day Andrews and Nemorin went to make their bust, March 10, 2003, the radio frequency from their Kel devices to back-up officers trailing them in patrol cars – “ghosts,” in police-speak – did not work.

The signal was lost in the hilly terrain of Staten Island, police said at the time. The unprotected detectives were lured to a poorly lit side street. Shots were fired from a .44 caliber pistol to the back of the detectives’ heads, execution style. The bodies were dumped and left like garbage bags.

It’s been more than a year and a half since the high-profile murders of Andrews and Nemorin, but undercover officers and detectives claim they are still placed at an unnecessarily high level of danger because they have been using the same Kel devices for more than 10 years, and still suffer spotty connections.

“There’s no excuse for forcing undercovers who put their lives on the line every day of the week to use poor and ineffective equipment,” said Marquez Claxton, a detective who co-founded the group 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care. The Kels, he added, “do not belong in New York City. They simply do not work.”

Anthony Miranda, a former Bronx undercover narcotics officer and executive chairman of the National Latino Officer’s Association, called the Kels “bulky” and “antiquated.” While the deaths of Andrews and Nemorin received widespread attention, Mr. Miranda blamed the transmitting devices for “countless instances” of failed communication that led to the assault and injury of undercover detectives.

The inconsistency of the Kels – so small they can fit inside a pair of eyeglass frames and then transmit signals to trailing officers monitoring their conversations through briefcase-concealed radios – have not escaped the attention of police brass.

Two days after the murders of Andrews and Nemorin, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly criticized the Kels for their failure to work in all environments.

“This is not unusual,” Mr. Kelly said at a March 12, 2003, press conference, about the lost radio signal between Andrews and Nemorin and their ghosts. “They have low wattage, and they don’t have that great a transmission rage,” he went on. “When you get into hilly locations, it’s difficult to transmit.”

The widows and families of Andrews and Nemorin were incensed at the failure of back-up officers to monitor the detectives’ conversations during the fateful buy-and-bust.

After the murders, each family, with legal help of the detectives union, the Detectives’ Endowment Association, filed separate notices in court that they would consider pursuing multimillion dollar lawsuits against the police department for negligence and wrongful death.

Phil Karasyk, the attorney representing the families of Andrews and Nemorin and the general counsel to the detectives’ union, said that until the criminal cases against the detectives’ alleged killer and the four accomplices are resolved in federal court, the families would not likely pursue any civil claims.

Citing safety concerns for current undercover officers and potential lawsuits against the Police Department, a police spokesman yesterday declined to comment on the Kel devices. Efforts to reach the company that manufactures the Kels were unsuccessful.

The president of the detectives’ union, Michael Palladino, said the union commissioned a report exploring the options for more advanced surveillance equipment and submitted it to the police department three months ago.

“With all the high-tech stuff out there today, it seems there must be something better that we can give our guys to use,” Mr. Palladino said.

The project manager for a surveillance company that has been commissioned for equipment by the police department, Arielle Jamil, said the rising cost of surveillance gear has prevented many local police forces from upgrading. The question for police brass, she said, becomes one of priority.

“The reality is if you’re making a $5 bust, you’re gonna have $5 gear,” she said.

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