CDP editorial: Police probe needs outside presence
December 10, 2011
With another Craig Police Department officer allegedly running afoul of the law, it’s vital to preserving and improving public trust that the department’s internal investigation be assigned to an outside agency or investigator. The officer in question deserves a fair shake from the public and judicial system, not another department free pass if there was wrongdoing.
There was a collective groan from many in Craig and Moffat County when learning of another Craig Police Department officer's alleged brush with the wrong side of the law.
Hearing about this officer's trouble must have had many thinking the same thing:
Officer Frank Schmedeke is the third police officer in recent years to have trouble with the law.
These past cases have unfortunately but understandably led to a rattling of public confidence in the servants assigned and paid to protect them, their families and property.
Police officials have said they are conducting an internal investigation into Schmedeke. Based on the department's internal investigation into a past officer — Ken Johnson — and the colossal failure it turned out to be, it's logical to question whether the PD is capable of adequately investigating one of its own.
Before moving forward, we'd be remiss not to cite a few key points.
First, the difficulties a few police officers have presented in the past isn't enough to view other officers, or the department as a whole, in a negative light. Categorizing the batch as spoiled because a few have colored outside the lines is wrong and shortsighted.
The Craig Daily Press, and we're hoping the public, believes wholeheartedly that the majority of our police officers are honest, law-abiding, dedicated public servants who diligently protect and serve.
We hold the chain of command at the PD in the same high esteem.
Next, the circumstances of Johnson and his replacement Bob Brabo, both of whom were convicted of wrongdoing, have nothing to do with Schmedeke and shouldn't factor into deciding his fate in court, with the police department, or in the court of public opinion.
One has nothing to do with the other, and Schmedeke deserves an honest shake from the public, judicial system and his commanding officers.
However, that being said, given the failure of the Johnson internal investigation, it's valid to question the department's ability to look into one of its own.
The Johnson case was an ugly, embarrassing episode not only for the PD, but also for the community. It reinforced negative perceptions of police, and created a few as well.
The police department has to accept responsibility for part of that.
Unintentional or not, Johnson was given a free pass by those he worked with. It was only after an outside investigator looked into the officer that his checkered doings were brought to light.
An additional point of clarification, and this is important: in the Johnson case, we believe police officials were misled by an officer intent on misleading them, an officer who played on past relationships and an existing trust.
It's not difficult to understand how the situation unraveled. When working closely with someone, you want to believe they're speaking the truth, that the person you've known and trusted for so long isn't bent.
The department trusted Johnson, and was burned by that trust.
Which leads us to what needs to happen with Schmedeke.
An outside, independent agency or investigator should be assigned to the internal investigation.
It's a reasonable approach that preserves the integrity of the department, avoids a blurring of personal and professional relationships, and signals to the public there's no such thing as a big blue wall of silence.
We hope police officials seriously consider this approach.
Another botched investigation can do irreparable harm and needlessly overshadow the fine work, service and bravery of the many officers who are worthy and deserving of the public's trust.