Category: Archive

Former DEA chief takes North police oversight posting

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Patrick Markey

As Northern Ireland’s political players circle gingerly around the issue of policing, a former high-ranking U.S. federal official has been appointed to oversee the controversial implementation of the Patten Commission reforms to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

The official, Thomas Constantine, is a former a state trooper who forged a high-profile policing career from humble beginnings fighting drug dealers in rough and tumble upstate New York, and rose to head America’s anti-narcotics organization, the Drug Enforcement Agency.

An Irish-American Catholic who traces his roots to County Clare, Constantine enters the Northern Ireland fray amid a stormy debate over the future of policing. In accepting the position, Constantine said he was aware of the difficulties he faces.

"I’ve had very difficult, challenging jobs in the past, and very dangerous jobs, and there were times when people said that they were too difficult and too challenging, yet people of courage and good will sometimes can change that," he said.

The British government, which is now pushing its policing bill through parliament, also believes Constantine is capable of meeting his latest law enforcement challenge.

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"In my judgment, Tom Constantine has the knowledge, experience and professionalism needed for the post," British Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Mandelson said in a statement. "I think we were very lucky to get him. He has set aside alternative offers since his retirement."

In the oversight commissioner post, Constantine, whose 60, will monitor progress the reforms agreed by the government over an initial three-year period.

The Patten report recommended 175 changes, ranging from a neutral name and more Catholic recruitment to a new ombudsperson and a cross-community policing board.

"He will conduct progress review meetings every four months or so with ministers, the chief constable, the police authority and others," Mandelson said. "After these he will produce a formal report — which I hope will be positive and constructive, but which could also highlight and comment on delays or failures."

Constantine was appointed DEA administrator in 1994 after serving as a superintendent in the New York State Police for 34 years.

A tribute to his roots in basic law enforcement, when he was selected as superintendent of the state police, he was the first man in 30 years to have risen through the ranks from trooper to chief of the agency.

As administrator of the DEA, Constantine oversaw 8,000 special agents and staff assigned to the agency’s more than 200 domestic offices and 80 foreign positions. He retired from the post last year.

Constantine’s career has not been without controversy. Last year, he caused a stir when he criticized Washington’s drug enforcement policies in Mexico.

Later, several reports surfaced that Constantine’s comments had prompted the Clinton administration to oppose his nomination as the Northern Ireland’s oversight commissioner.

But one reliable source familiar with the selection process said reports of the Clinton Administration blocking Constantine’s possible appointment were exaggerated.

Constantine will visit Northern Ireland for two-week periods several times a year in his new position.

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