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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Starting Anew After Exposing Law Enforcement Corruption

Police, council can start afresh in Shenandoah
The Republican Herald - Editorial - January 16, 2010

Now that the longtime untouchable, insulated fiefdom of the Shenandoah Police Department has been disrupted, it's high time - or more accurately, way past the time - to make something clear: The borough mayor is in charge of the police department. In boroughs the mayor is the boss of the police chief. This duty is one of the relatively few official duties borough mayors have. Police chiefs and officers are not independent lancer corps that need answer to no one. They are subject to civilian control, which is what our system is about. For too long the Shenandoah Police Department had acted as some kind of arrogant independent conclave not to be questioned or challenged in any manner. Those who raised questions could face, well, difficulties. It can be argued that this setup contributed greatly to the current police corruption scandal that has led to the resignations of the chief and three officers, who face federal charges. When former Mayor Thomas O'Neill Sr. tried to exercise his legitimate authority as elected mayor over the police, he was frustrated at every turn. Remember the incidents where his home was vandalized and firecrackers were set off on his porch? No one was ever arrested in those episodes. The tension between O'Neill and other borough officials during municipal meetings, and the penchant for police to ignore his authority over them, became so bad that O'Neill had to resort to legal action. O'Neill eventually resigned as mayor and relocated out of the borough. In his letter of resignation he cited the health and medical needs of his wife, which made it necessary for them to relocate to a handicap-equipped residence. But a secondary reason, he admitted, were the "obvious political conflicts that have led to my decision to spend my retirement in peace." O'Neill had also been at odds with the borough council over a police contract - he thought portions of the contract diluted his lawful authority over the police - and he successfully got court-mandated changes to the pact. But such frustrating and costly dances around the political mulberry bush should not be necessary. Police are under the direction of the mayor and municipal officials are answerable to the citizens they serve. Did you get that? The citizens they serve - not the other way around. The borough council in Shenandoah now has the opportunity to turn things around; to launch a new era where civilian authority over the police department and appointed borough officials is not challenged and where "openness" is the word of the day, every day. The council members - President Leo Pietkiewicz, Vice President Don Segal, Andrew Szczyglak, Paul Holland, Raymond T. Nestor, John Szczyglak and Albert Bernosky - have the opportunity and duty to start afresh and make sure everything in the borough is done right, in line with the letter and spirit of the law. They are in charge. They serve the people of Shenandoah.

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