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It's expensive when law enforcement fails

Political subdivisions have recently paid a high price for law enforcement officers not living up to the public trust.

Hubbard County's eye-popping settlement of $640,000 to an Akeley woman earlier this year to settle a civil rights case was a painful lesson in the oversight -- or lack of -- officers exercising poor judgment.

Akeley additionally paid $55,000 for its role in the same case.

Then there's the case of Becker County, which recently settled a wiretapping case with three plaintiffs, including a convicted murderer, when jail personnel secretly taped cell phone communications between defendants and their attorneys. The payout -- $104,000 for violating attorney-client privilege.


Maybe it's too easy for county and city officials to deny responsibility and pass off the litigation costs to pool insurers. But risk seems to be growing, and eventually, so will insurance premiums, paid for with taxpayer dollars.

Certainly, law officers make mistakes. But their errors have been awfully expensive.

Maybe it's time county and city officials review internal procedures to make sure lapses in police judgment don't find their way into courtrooms. Remedial measures should be ongoing, regardless of whether or not the officers at the heart of the recent lawsuits are no longer employed.

Maybe we've just seen a bad trend that's over.

But in Akeley's case, the two officers involved in the civil rights case were both subsequently accused of unprofessional conduct.

The part-time cop has been cut from the force. The chief is now on paid leave for allegedly abusing his authority. He deserves a fair hearing if there is to be one, but preferably held in the city boardroom, not a county or federal courtroom.

Powerful police unions to an extent hamstring local governments trying to deal with bad cops. They hire attorneys to defend them and threaten to sue if those officers are put on unpaid leave until the allegations are sorted out.

The brotherhood in blue also deserves some blame for passing bad cops on to other departments with glowing recommendations. Let someone else deal with them, is the reasoning.

We don't want politicians micromanaging our law officers and their departments, but we also don't need any more costly lessons in history repeating itself.

In general our police, deputies and jailers do a good job, even a great job. But one rogue cop can make them all look bad and we must make sure there are procedures in place to weed out the rotten apples quickly and decisively.

Officers are our friends, our hunting buddies, our fishing companions, our neighbors. But they also have a tremendous amount of authority; it should be properly supervised.

In the hands of the wrong individuals, power can be abused. And law officers in our region have just learned an expensive and embarrassing lesson that they're not above the law. -- Park Rapids Enterprise