When the last “Welcome aboard!” had faded away on my first day as a cop, I was briskly ushered to a dimly lit cubicle where a three-ring binder the size of the Cleveland phone book awaited. “This is the policy manual,” I was told. “Read it because you’re responsible for everything in it.”
Since then the digital age has rendered paper versions of workplace rules obsolete. This was timely because the human penchant for screw-ups would ultimately have led to a policy manual roughly the size of Cleveland. What, I wonder, would be the reaction if each new policy were named after the cop whose blunder caused it to exist? In that light one could easily anticipate the name above the next policy to be written at the Lakewood Police Department: The Skeeter Rule.
Skeeter Manos, a veteran Lakewood officer, was fired on Friday after being indicted in federal court on ten counts of wire fraud. His charges included stealing approximately $150,000 from the Lakewood Fallen Officers’ Fund.
If this actually happened then it is a wonder that Skeeter Manos managed to pull it off. His financial problems were well known at City Hall, where finance officials were served with requests for wage garnishments from Manos’ creditors. His role as the guild treasurer required at least one additional signator on the account. Nevertheless, according to a recent Trib update Skeeter Manos may have been tapping into three separate funds during his tenure as guild treasurer. The list of victims may now include Manos’ fellow officers.
The notion of theft is shameful on its face, but the concept of stealing from widows and orphans (not to mention colleagues) is a uniquely abysmal act. Manos’ guilt, however, is for investigators to explore and for the courts to decide. For now the question of how he was capable of diverting funds is worth asking.
Manos’ financial struggles, which had peaked around the time of the alleged theft, were never communicated to the police department. This was a very unfortunate omission on the part of Lakewood’s finance department. Every police policy manual which I have struggled through has contained ample direction and authority for handling this type of problem. And a cop with money issues can be a problem.
The reason is obvious. Police officers handle large sums of cash, drugs or goods on a daily basis. They assess and value items for insurance purposes with a keyboard stroke. They may be offered bribes or favors in exchange for consideration. But when a cop’s checkbook is filled with a lot of red ink, his or her ability to fend off these unethical (and illegal) offers may be adversely affected.
The Lakewood cops were just the latest to fall prey to the thieves that live among us. The environment in which they thrive, amid good people who mingle their money in common cause, is ripe for the taking. Nobody wants the job of keeping the organization’s books, nor the equally unglamorous role of double-checking the work of the person stuck being the treasurer. So the bottom feeders wind up as the money collector for your kid’s soccer team. They are the “financial adviser” for a senior’s investment group. They are the bookkeeper for a charity.
My wife was especially upset with Skeeter Manos’ alleged theft. Because she is a CPA she is keenly aware of the damage a savvy thief can do when left alone with the books. She then lectured me on the need to do a credit check on any individual charged with handling a group’s money. I told her that idea was over the top.
Then I started thinking about it. I realized that I would never knowingly give my money to a stock broker, bookkeeper or accountant who had proven unable to handle their own finances. But that’s just what the Lakewood police guild had done.
With that realization, I would share my wife’s suggestion with anyone who does not want the funds from their sports team, social club, professional group or agency to wind up in the bank account of a spineless thief. 1) Show the club treasurer – who is more than likely a giving and tireless volunteer – a little respect. 2) Identify a suitable assistant who is willing and able to verify the numbers. 3) Check their credit history.
And if you have to go to the trouble of writing a formal policy on this subject, then at least give it a proper name: The Skeeter Rule.