Archive for Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Cause for alarm

February 26, 2003


Allegations by a local police officer who has been fired demand the full attention of city and police officials.

Lawrence residents should be alarmed by what is going on inside the Lawrence Police Department.

Some weeks ago, an officer who had been working to break up and expose illegal drug activities in the area was fired for using what some claim were questionable investigation tactics. Consequently, a number of cases that the officer had investigated were dropped and the suspects were set free.

The officer claims others in the police department were aware of the manner in which he was conducting investigations and that he never deliberately deceived any judges. He also suggests there may be someone inside the police department who has deliberately scuttled his efforts by tipping off local drug dealers.

Those are serious charges, and the public needs to know the truth. It is reported that the officer who was removed from the force had secured evidence or a witness who would testify that people in law enforcement were involved in the drug scene.

Now, this witness is said to have faded from the scene because of the officer's firing.

Tuesday's hearings about the correctness of suspending and terminating the local officer were closed to everyone except the police chief, the accused officer and a grievance committee made up of five city employees. No attorneys were permitted in the hearing, in which the officer's firing was upheld.

If there is any substance to the officer's charge that at least one other officer was aware of all of his actions, that he didn't intentionally deceive any judge and that there may be someone inside the department who, for one reason or another, does not want drug dealers to be successfully prosecuted, then the public needs to get to the bottom of this potentially dangerous and embarrassing situation.

A community must have confidence in the honesty of its law enforcement system, whether it is the integrity of the newest police officer, a sheriff's deputy, higher-ranking police and sheriff's officials, those in city hall or those who serve as judges.

There are some in the community who probably are delighted to see questions being raised about tactics used to identify and apprehend those in the drug business because they hope this will take the pressure off and reduce the possibility of exposure and arrest.

But the vast majority of local residents should be concerned about the situation and question why a small, hand-picked group is conducting its own secret, internal investigation while the public is kept in the dark.

Over the years, local residents have had every reason to be proud of their law enforcement agencies and those who serve on the police and sheriff's departments, as well as those who serve as judges. This confidence and reputation of total honesty is critical and must not be compromised.

City officials should demand to know what has been going on within the police department, whether the officer in question is, indeed, guilty of improper actions and whether others in the department were aware of his actions but said nothing. Is this former officer being hung out to dry to divert attention from others within the department? Did someone in the department sabotage efforts to have a more effective drug interdiction effort?

This is a terribly serious matter and would seem to deserve the full and open attention of top city officials and/or investigation by a totally independent group of appointed citizens.

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