09/21/04 — Cop shakedowns: Can this happen in our community?

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Cop shakedowns: Can this happen in our community?

As residents of our county reel with the shock of alleged misconduct within the Mount Olive Police Department, let us pause and reflect on the fact that the department itself initiated the investigation.

The police chief, the district attorney and the town manager obviously moved quickly and forcefully to protect the public against activities many among us must have regarded with incredulity.

Three officers, one a shift supervisor, have been suspended for alleged involvement in taking money from the wallets of Hispanic motorists stopped during routine checks.

One spokesman — not at all a rabble-rouser — for the Hispanic community has come forth and suggested that the practice might have been going on for some time.

There were reports that Hispanic drivers had said — but not complained publicly — that officers had taken not only their money but their wallets.

The case had been turned over to the State Bureau of Investigation, and properly so.

The suspensions apparently followed an incident in which an SBI undercover agent reportedly had his wallet containing more than $300 in recorded bills taken and kept by a police officer.

While the officers have been suspended without pay, we must presume their innocence, and hope for some mitigating explanation.

But if anyone is found guilty of the allegations, serious punishment should be demanded by all the citizens of this community who respect the law, fairness and human dignity.

Anyone guilty of such grossly unacceptable conduct should be assessed not only active jail time but retribution for any valuables our Hispanic neighbors can show were taken from them.

The victims of such crimes are not just those from whom money might have been taken. They also encompass the good, conscientious officers of the Mount Olive Police Department, and the good name and image of the entire town and our county.

Published in Editorials on September 21, 2004 2:29 PM