Thursday, September 14, 2006

What Crime? Gotcha!?

What's wrong with this picture?

What picture? I wouldn’t run it, even if I had it.

KOAT Action 7 News ran a story Wednesday that the Albuquerque Journal reported today. It involved a dispute in Sandoval County of a police report of the alleged personal activities of the Sheriff.

The officer who authored the report did not see any activity; he had to infer it. Even if he had seen something, it would only have been because he had approached the vehicle as a law enforcement officer.

There is nothing improper in the officer’s checking out suspicious activity. The backed up vehicle parked at the Park and Ride lot with a sunscreen partly in the window may be suspicious to some officers, prompting a cursory inspection. What the officer thought he found was not a crime. No charges were filed.

The only reason to write a report of a non-crime, in this case, was to attempt to embarrass an elected official. He succeeded, but at what cost? November elections are only weeks away and the sheriff is up for reelection.

In the law enforcement world there are great jealousies and rivalries between agencies, especially between city or town police and county sheriffs.

If anyone thinks this reported police activity is appropriate on moral grounds, they are wrong. Leave it to the tabloids, or KOAT, or the Journal, without involving law enforcement.

Cops are not the moral or sex police!

If law enforcement staked out every establishment for morally questionable activities and wrote reports on them, an awful lot of otherwise “respectable” locations, like banks, lawyers’ offices, courthouses, police stations, television outlets and even newspapers would be under constant surveillance.

This was political, cheap, low-life and wrong! People are entitled to infer what they will….

Law enforcement is confronted with morally unacceptable behavior all the time. It is their duty to deal only with the criminal activity that crosses beyond the moral line, not the alleged proclivities of elected officials.

If anything, the officers writing the reports should be questioned for conduct unbecoming. The law enforcement code of ethics, in part, states, “Whatever I see or hear of a confidential nature or that is confided to me in my official capacity will be kept ever secret unless revelation is necessary in the performance of my duty.” It goes on, ”… I will never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, animosities or friendships to influence my decisions.”

If this report were made about an ordinary citizen, rather than a public figure, it might be considered libelous for the public revelation of private facts, true or not. Because the sheriff is a public figure, in order to prove libel he would have to meet an almost insurmountable burden of proving that the release of the information was either known to be untrue or malicious.

The media in this case, are protected simply because they are quoting from an official governmental report. They may also quote from the code, “I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all…” placing the sheriff in an awkward position. Yet his uncomfortable position, if he violated the code himself, does not authorize town police to disregard their duty to uphold their own ethical obligations.

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