Badges Spur Homeland Security Flap in Michigan

DETROIT -- Wayne County's Department of Homeland Security faces accusations that its official badges and identification cards are being used illegally to gain access and privileges, the second alleged abuse of badges in two years under county executive Robert Ficano.

In two instances since July, police and jail records show that a member of a county advisory board used a badge and ID to avoid a traffic ticket and to visit a suspect in jail.

Sheriff investigators and Wayne County Commissioner Alisha Bell are looking into possible abuses by civilian members of the county's 92-member homeland security advisory board. Ficano created the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate local response and safeguard against post-September 11 disasters.

The badge controversy hearkens back to February 2003, when sheriff's badges given to Ficano campaign contributors and other non-law enforcement county officials were being flashed to avoid tickets during traffic stops and other contacts with police .

According to records, the county paid for 15 homeland security badges that were distributed to 15 county executives.

The records showed five other badges were ordered and, police reports suggest, at least one wound up in the possession of a member of the advisory board."Only law enforcement people should have badges," said Bell, who chairs a committee on homeland security. "You don't want that bad badge getting into the wrong hands."

Wayne County Sheriff Warren C. Evans said he is very disturbed that homeland security badges are apparently floating around the community.

"We don't know who has these badges or how many have been issued," Evans said. "This is a huge security problem, and anyone who says it isn't is being ridiculous."

The controversy comes during what some consider a leadership crisis at the agency, which has lost three of its top four officials in the past month.

Other commissioners interviewed by The Detroit News said they knew nothing about the existence of homeland security badges or the advisory board that department director Anthony Shannon Jr. formed two years ago. The board consists of an array of businesspeople, vendors and some county police, fire and other emergency service officials.

Shannon told Bell that the board advised the department of "community concerns regarding homeland security issues, and provided meaningful discussions and presentations."

Flashing the Badge
The homeland security badges became an issue July 20, when a Wayne County Jail visitor asked for a private visit with a federal prisoner. The visitor produced a black leather case with a badge similar to that of a U.S. marshal. The badge was embossed with the words "Homeland Security Emergency Department." The flip-open case also had a county picture identification card authorized by Shannon.

When jail supervisor Lt. Robert Wood asked if the visitor was a cop, 24-year-old Wyandotte body shop owner Marwan Haidar, a member of the homeland security advisory board, responded "yes."

Jail officers took a picture of Haidar's identification and badge, and he was allowed a supervised visit, not the private visit he requested.

Eight days later, Taylor police said that Haidar flashed the same badge and identification to get out of a traffic ticket.

According to a Taylor incident report, Cpl. Dave Strominger observed a two-seat 2003 Mercedes Benz sports car avoiding a construction zone on Telegraph by cutting through a Burger King parking lot without stopping.

When Strominger pulled over the car and asked Haidar for his driver's license, registration and proof of insurance, Haidar pulled out a wallet with a law enforcement badge on the outside and retrieved his driver's license from the wallet.

Strominger asked Haidar where he worked and Haidar responded "homeland security," according to the report.

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.

Nancy Mouradian, Ficano's chief of staff, said that Ficano had sent registered letters to the badge holders to return them and that he had issued a notice on the law enforcement information network advising other police departments to confiscate any they came across.

Evans said he still has never received any accounting for those badges from Ficano.

One such sheriff's badge was produced by the driver of a late-model Corvette in May 2002, when the man drove up to a business while FBI, Detroit Police and other agencies in a narcotics task force were raiding the premises.

The driver of the Corvette was Haidar, who also was wearing a black polo shirt with Wayne County Sheriff's Department and a sheriff's emblem embroidered over the left pocket.

When he was asked by agents to identity himself, Haidar produced a sheriff's badge and ID and said he was "a sheriff." He later told agents he was not an employee of the sheriff's department but that he had been "deputized" by the sheriff because he works with the DARE anti-drug education program.

The FBI confiscated the badge and ID card.

Evans said his department has turned over their information on possible misuse of homeland security badges to the U.S. Attorney's office.