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Cheating scandal imperils police staffing in Duquesne

| Wednesday, July 9, 2014, 10:54 p.m.

With only 14 officers to fight crime, the Duquesne Police Department may be left reeling from an ongoing state probe into academic cheating that could kill the careers of two officers.

The Municipal Police Officers' Education and Training Commission, an independent panel in Harrisburg that certifies local cops for duty statewide, has sent certified letters to Duquesne Patrolman David Sisko, 39, and an unnamed officer alleging that they cheated on their annual written recertification tests in January in Wilkins. The pair would lose their right to remain sworn officers if they lose their appeals, a process likely to take months.

“I have nothing to say to you,” said Sisko when reached by the Tribune-Review.

Calling Sisko and the second officer, who he would not identify, “very capable,” Duquesne Chief Richard Adams said they are still employed by the city. Adams said that he learned from them a few weeks ago about the allegations. The commission, he said, did not directly reach out to him about the matter.

The investigation is being conducted by state troopers who serve on the oversight commission's staff, he said.

“They were notified that they were being decertified, but there's an appeal process, and we should wait to see what happens,” Adams said.

The loss of two officers would make scheduling police shifts “tough,” the chief said. Duquesne is in the middle of a two-year hiring cycle, and 22 applicants have taken exams to see whether they can qualify to join the department months from now.

Before a January quiz in Wilkins after statewide Mandatory In-Service Training (MIST), an Allegheny County Police officer allegedly was shipped a cellphone picture of the exam answers, the Tribune-Review learned. He contacted authorities to tell them that the answer key to the test about cyber-crimes, including those using cellphones, had been distributed by a cop in the class.

Instructors switched out the tests, and officers — mostly from small Mon Valley departments — who failed to notice the answer key didn't match the new exam reportedly flunked, the Trib learned.

State police officials declined to comment. However, internal emails from the agency obtained by the Trib reveal that the alleged cheating scandal in Wilkins forced officials to scramble statewide to mitigate the fallout.

On Feb. 4, Rudy M. Grubesky, the commission's director of training and curriculum, emailed a “high” alert to police academies statewide warning them that “Test 1 has been compromised for all four MIST courses” and that instructors should switch to two alternative exams. He told them that a new quiz and answer key would be arriving within a week as a “contingency” if all tests were found to be stolen and circulated.

A June 4 email written by Lt. Stephen L. Kiessling, the trooper in charge of protecting professional standards at the commission, alerted state police brass that the investigation was continuing but gave no indication when it would wrap up.

One of the officers interviewed in Kiessling's investigation was North Versailles police Chief James Matrazzo. He took the January quiz alongside 31 other officers, including the pair from Duquesne. Matrazzo, 49, told the Trib that he did not know who — if anyone — had cheated and said that he could not discuss many details about the case because “it's still under investigation.”

Like Adams, he said that he had not been told by the commission that any North Versailles officers had received decertification notices. He said he has not been told by any of his officers they have received decertification letters.

With 17 full-time officers and five part-timers, Matrazzo said decertification of any North Versailles officer would affect scheduling at a time when he was trying to increase the size of his staff.

Carl Prine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7826 or cprine@tribweb.com.

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