The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 8, 2013

Extra police effort upholds credibiltiy


Daily Item

---- — After four months in limbo, an unusual case that includes allegations of hiring an assailant to beat up a teenager in Milton has resurfaced as a state police matter because a local policeman had a personal relationship with the person who was accused of hiring a thug.

In Point Township, something similar occurred when a police officer developed a personal relationship with a victim while investigating her charges that she had been subjected to physical and sexual abuse.

The victim in that case was also related to the Point Township police chief who had assigned the investigating officer.

At last report, the Point Township matter was still in limbo.

The accused had been released from jail after many months, but charges had not been dropped pending what everyone believes is a review of the situation to see how justice could be served.

There are circumstances when knowing nearly everyone in a jurisdiction can complicate matters, accidentally or on purpose.

For all the training and professionalism associated with law enforcement, police are people, too, which means some random crossover between public duty and personal involvement may be unavoidable.

Much of what occurs to sort out these matters, behind the badge or in judges' chambers, is exempt from customary procedures for open government --cloaked by an all-purpose lockdown on information essential to an official investigation.

When that happens, these incidents test the justice system's ability to examine, resolve, report and reassure everyone of equal protection under the law.

Officers of the peace spend a high percentage of work time with people under stress who have lost control. Civil or criminal remedies for nearly every shade of dispute -- hate speech, harassment, terroristic threat, domestic abuse, bullying, assault and conspiracy to interfere with a contractual relationship -- are formally defined terms for untangling private relationships gone awry.

How police officers and their managers deal with interruptions to the peace in their own lives may have implications for the professional discretion they exercise on duty. It took a while for some departments, for example, to distinguish and gather reliable evidence of domestic violence despite reticence of victims and witnesses to press charges.

When local departments acknowledge conflicts of interest and other police agencies follow, the visible reappearance and resolution of these charges sustains public trust.

Justice doesn't reside in limbo and shouldn't be parked there for too long.