Sweeps concern some parole officers

June 17, 2009 9:24:50 PM PDT
Most government buildings have them. So do many schools, but you won't find metal detectors at the one place every week where you're guaranteed to find dozens of convicted felons.

State parole offices.

Parole officers are now speaking out, claiming that management's "solution" is to have so-called "safety" sweeps that put lives in danger.

When parolees reported for their weekly office visit in Farmingdale, Long Island on Wednesday, they didn't get to talk to their parole officers. Instead, they were greeted instead by a set of handcuffs and a surprise "safety" search.

"I just came out of jail and it made me feel like I was still in jail," James Rich said.

The Division of Parole says sweeps like the first ever on Long Island deter parolees from bringing in weapons to parole offices.

We spoke with several officers who disagree and claim the sweeps jeopardize the relationships they've built with their parolees."

"I feel there's a trust factor and it's punitive. The parole officer who has been the mentor, or someone who they looked up to, is now considered an enemy," said one officer.

And officers say the sweeps may actually endanger lives rather than saving them, especially if a parolee does come in with a weapon.

"They're on parole. They don't want to go back to jail," parolee Douglas Jones said.

"We're backing them into a corner," another officer said. "If he can't go out the front door and he realizes he's going to be searched, and he has a weapon, he's going to use that weapon. I think they're going to do exactly what that guy did in Queens."

Two and a half months ago, a parolee was shot to death during a similar surprise sweep at the Queens parole office. He had pulled a knife on a female officer and two other officers fired. Several insiders say the parolee had brought the knife to the office because he had been threatened by another parolee, and then panicked with the search.

"Parolees think that's where they're most vulnerable," the officer explained.

Nowhere do you have more convicted felons in one place at one time than on report day at a parole office.

"Like if I have a beef with somebody who is on parole and I know I am going to see him at parole, and I know I can get away with whatever, nine times out of ten that's where I would probably snuff him. I'd probably punch him in the face right at parole," parolee Christopher Williams said.

Parole officers have asked for the sweeps to stop and for metal detectors to be placed in all of the state offices where parolees report. So far, that hasn't happened, and the sweeps continue.

"We're playing Russian roulette," an officer said. "These sweeps are dangerous."

Wednesday's parole sweep took place just a few feet away from two busy commercial buildings where we saw oblivious employees outside, enjoying their lunch break.

"What happens to those customers at those businesses who might get caught in the crossfire? With metal detectors, it levels the playing field. Everyone knows they're safe," the officer argued.

The Division of Parole maintains the safety inspections are valuable and have widespread support among officers. A spokesperson added the agency is studying the possibility of a pilot program where metal detectors would be installed in one or two of the state offices.