When disgraced former Kingston Police Department detective lieutenant Tim Matthews was led from the courtroom and sent on his way to state prison last week, virtually the only cops in the courtroom were those on official business. His former colleagues, who endured months of official scrutiny and public suspicion while investigators unraveled Matthews’ fraud, had moved on to a new era with a new ethos of civic engagement they hope will eventually erase the stain left by the scandal.

Tim Matthews' booking shot.

“There was a lot of frustration that we were being generally accused,” said KPD Lt. Cliff Tremper, who supervises the department’s day shift, of the fallout of the Matthews investigation. “But I’ve seen a visible change. People are more excited about going out and doing things and being in the public eye.”

The dark days for the KPD began suddenly in January 2011 when Matthews a 26-year veteran who headed up the department’s Detective Division was placed on administrative leave amid allegations that he may have charged the police department and the Kingston City School District— where he worked a second job as a security coordinator — for overlapping hours. The news got worse a few days later when Matthews, the public face of the department and widely presumed to be its next chief, was arrested on a charge of grand larceny after city officials found $9,000 missing from a safe used to hold money seized as evidence and investigative funds. Matthews would eventually be indicted on 13 felony counts, accused of a decade-long pattern of theft of department funds and evidence. Last week he pleaded guilty to two counts of grand larceny and was sentenced to three to nine years in state prison.

“It was a bomb that came out of nowhere,” recalls Tremper. “In house, people started talking about something going on. Then, as things disintegrated and details came out about where the investigation was headed, it kept getting worse.”

Suspected and scrutinized

By March, a team of auditors from the State Comptroller’s Office had set up shop in a spare office at police headquarters onGarraghan Drive. They would remain for eight months, poring over mountains of departmental records looking for further malfeasance and examining every aspect of the KPD’s fiscal controls. The FBI and the IRS joined the investigation, questioning cops, outside employers and accused drug dealers, looking for further evidence of corruption in the department. Media outlets, meanwhile, flooded police headquarters with requests for Matthews’ payroll records under the state’s Freedom of Information Law. Since the records were not, at that point, part of the criminal case against Matthews, the department was forced to comply — an effort that cost the department hundreds of man-hours and a burnt-out photocopier. The scrutiny, according to Police Chief Egidio Tinti, who was a lieutenant assigned to replace Matthews at the Detective Division at the time, placed career cops in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable position: that of potential suspects.