Trusting police: Culture needs investigation, too

Trusting police: Culture needs investigation, too

March 7th, 2013 in Opinion Times

Judging from headlines, trusting police and law enforcement authorities seems to be getting harder and harder.

Two Chattanooga officers brutally beat a man as video rolls and more than a dozen officers walk past never attempting to contain the violence.

In Catoosa County, Ga., a FBI agent suspected of drinking and driving and who likes to showcase himself surrounded by civilian women who "help him" with his work on a sex crime task force, has compromised the work of that task force.

In Trion, Ga., Hays State Prison officials for months on end turned a blind eye to malfunctioning cell locks. Last week, the public learned that in January alone, searches turned up 192 weapons -- some nearly the size of machetes, along with 137 cell phones and 56 drug items.

So is it any wonder that on Tuesday, when Howard School was placed on lockdown after a student there was found dead off campus but nearby, that police (and the media) were criticized for linking the school with the crime?

By the way, the school was locked down for the safety of the students there. Police indicate the sophomore's death may be connected to other past gang violence.

On Monday, another gang-violence episode played out in a hearing in the Hamilton County Courthouse. An eye witness suddenly decided she hadn't seen anything. Perhaps what she saw as she took the witness stand and changed her story was fear, because who can she trust?

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond has come under fire recently for telling the newspaper that people have expressed to him a heightened fear of crime because America has a black president. He's not passing judgment on the president. He's commenting on fear, and perhaps unwittingly fanning it. Given the day and age and climate, the unintended consequence of his statement simply feeds the distrust of law enforcement authorities.

Clearly, unsettling things are happening. Things police, deputies, federal agents and prison guards must deal with both within and outside law enforcement circles.

Here's the thing: The public can expect and understand that gangs and criminals thumb their noses at the law and morals of our society. But the public cannot and should not understand when the authorities act the same way.

The FBI is investigating the Catoosa County allegations against Special Agent Ken Hillman, the sex task force leader.

And Georgia state authorities continue probing conditions and happenings at Hays State Prison in Trion.

The FBI also is investigating the Chattanooga police beating to determine if the human rights of Adam Tatum -- whose legs were broken not just once but eight times -- were violated.

Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd fired the two officers who beat Tatum, but no action has been taken against those who stood by while it happened. Dodd says the beating was an isolated incident.

Hmmm. Police investigators are fond of saying there is no such thing as coincidence.

They are right.

So while everyone is investigating everyone, let's look, too, at police culture.

The thin blue line is not without stain.