Tiverton Police Scandal Should Lead Officials to Humility with Taxpayers


On WPRI, Tim White has some additional, enraging details about the alleged theft of taxpayer funds by Tiverton Police Lieutenant Timothy Panell — enraging not only because I live and pay taxes in Tiverton, but also because the lower-tax budgets I’ve put in (and won) during the past three years have made me and others the target of accusations of greed.

First, a detail about the charges against Panell:

According to the report reviewed by Target 12, the camera found Panell at home on 54 occasions between April 23 and August 4. Most times ranged between three and four hours, but there were occasions where the log showed stays of over five and six hours. One entry showed a seven hour 38 minute stretch.

Apparently, the counts with which Panell has been charged were all within less than 15 weeks.  That’s about 3.5 “occasions” per week, and this could have been going on for years.  As I’ve noted, Panell has long been one of the highest-paid employees in town, largely due to overtime.

But White indicates that it wasn’t just the lieutenant:

“Six [officers] admitted to having knowledge and/or receiving ‘orders’ directly or implied by Lt. Panell that between the hours of 0300 HRS to 0600 HRS was identified as ‘quiet time,’” Chief Thomas Blakey wrote in the arrest report. “And no enforcement activity or ‘work’ was to be conducted during that time frame by other officers assigned to the shift and under the command of Lt. Panell.”

The report also reveals four unnamed officers were suspended after they were discovered sleeping “in the back lot of the police department.”

Stopping services in the early hours of the morning was a systemic abuse and shirking of the officers’ responsibility.  And yet, here’s the town administrator giving a presentation on May 18 (around 30:30 on the clock), implicitly with the hope of winning a vote for a higher budget at the upcoming financial town referendum (FTR):

Nobody [who works for the town] is a parasite.  Nobody is your enemy.  We don’t come to work every day trying to find a way to take advantage of you.  If we find somebody like that, we get rid of them, because that’s not acceptable.  But the level of service that you’ve enjoyed, you’ve enjoyed because your public servants believe in public service to you.  And that is your social contract.

What came to mind when he said that was the Tiverton maintenance foreman, Robert Martin, who had recently been the subject of an investigative report on apparent theft of time and resources, and the town administrator, Jim Goncalo, who had apparently fired a whistle blower over Martin’s activities, and how both of those men were permitted to retire quietly, supposedly to save the town money in legal costs.  But now we know that Panell had been under investigation for nearly a month when Wojcik made his assertion, and that before that, multiple officers had been suspended for their “quiet time” ripoff.

At the end of the same presentation video, Tiverton Police Chief Thomas Blakey warns that taxpayers will lose employees if they don’t up their pay, insisting that employees “serve you and serve you well.”

Nobody should take the bad actions of what is still a small minority of the town’s workforce and assume that it is representative of all, but a little humility from elected and hired officials is in order.  For three years in a row, voters at the FTR have been the subject of attack because we’ve insisted that we are feeling abused within our town’s particular “social contract.”  In a growing number of ways, it would seem we’re absolutely justified in feeling that way.

Moreover, one of the best ways to limit this scandalous behavior is for all employees to understand that it does reflect on them and that it will affect their ability to ask for better pay and benefits.  Instead, it’s entirely possible that Panell and his “quite time” crew took the lesson of Martin and Goncalo that finding ways to take advantage of taxpayers comes with few consequences.

  • Mike678

    “taxpayers will lose employees if they don’t up their pay.” Really? Do we have any data to back up this assertion? Given the employment picture in RI, I’d say the marginal employees should “up their game” or be replaced.

    • OceanStateCurrent

      Seems to be a recurring theme. Were it not for labor unions and their rigid demands, we could pay exemplary employees sufficiently to keep them and not grieve when the others decided on another line of work.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    “Nobody is doin nuthin. If you teach school, you’re stealing pencils”

  • Joe Smith

    Didn’t the union negotiate a contract with criminals not to do any criminal activity during quiet time as well?