Badges Spur Homeland Security Flap in Michigan

Unaccounted for by administrators, "homeland security" badges being used in area for illegitimate reasons

Strominger said he examined the badge and the Wayne County homeland security identification card. He said because he had never heard of such a department in the county he called the sheriff's department and someone verified that there was such an agency. He let Haidar off with a warning.

Haidar has denied he ever had such a badge. But he said he was given a homeland security identification card when he joined the advisory board about a year ago.

"When I joined, I made sure it was something that I did not have to carry a gun, or go to school for it, I made that clear with them," Haidar said. "They said they would give me an ID card that you don't use for anything, you don't use it if you get pulled over by the police, you got no police power and you are just like any other citizen. The ID card is only good once a month to use to get into the meetings."

Haidar said his ability to fix law enforcement vehicles in an emergency situation made him a candidate of the advisory board.

Top Leaders Step Down
Bell says her attempts to get an accounting of such badges have been unsuccessful.

She said she sent written questions to Shannon asking about the activities of the advisory board and about the purchase and distribution of the badges and identification cards. In his written reply to Bell, Shannon said no such purchases were made, nor were badges or credentials that suggest law enforcement authority given to anyone.

Her efforts, however, have been further complicated by the recent changes in the department.

The top two department officials -- Shannon, a former Wayne County sheriff's deputy who Ficano elevated to chief when he was sheriff, and Deputy Director Mark Snelson, a British security expert -- left the department within a week of each other.

Shannon took a county buyout and retired Oct. 31 from the $135,000 job. Snelson resigned the following week from his $90,000 post to return to private business. Additionally, Assistant Director Sanford Altschul was fired in what a Ficano aide said was a "restructuring" of the department.

Neither Shannon and Snelson responded to requests for comment.

Invoice Reveals Badges
The News obtained an invoice from an Ogden, Utah, company that makes high-quality law enforcement badges showing a May 14, 2003, order for 15 badges and 15 cases at a cost of $1,520. The order was billed to the Wayne County's Department of Homeland Security.

Attached to the order is a "badge name list" with the first initial, surname and title of 15 county officials starting with R. Ficano, A. Shannon and M. Snelson. Five other badges without names or titles are included on that list.

Sharon Banks, a spokeswoman for Ficano acknowledged that her boss and the other executives have badges Shannon's office provided. She also confirmed the issuance of what she called ceremonial badges as well as ID cards given to advisory board members. These were to be used by board members to identify themselves at their meetings, she said.

"Ceremonial badges are only for that purpose, and activities like you described are totally outside the parameters of what they were intended for and (are) totally unacceptable," she said.

She said Ficano has ordered the county inspector general to investigate the alleged abuse of those badges. She could provide no further details on who has the badges or how many exist.

Sheriff Evans said he has not received a response from the Ficano administration to several inquires about the homeland security badges and credentials. Evans said federal authorities have ordered local police to stop even such longtime practices as courtesy exchange of police patches between officers of different departments.

"Here we have a government agency proliferating badges for a critical service in combatting terrorism," Evans said. "That makes no sense at all."

A Familiar Flap
This latest flap over badges is similar to one that erupted last year when Evans succeeded Ficano as sheriff and discovered that sheriff's badges and identification issued to non-law enforcement individual were being flashed at deputies during traffic stops.