Much of Monday evening’s council meeting was spent acknowledging the good work that has been done of late by members of the Forest Park Police Department. Several significant drug busts, an arson investigation and a foot chase involving an armed suspect have made for a busy few weeks at the police station. Such commendations aren’t handed out very often during council meetings, but this was time well spent.
The jaded view, of course, is that Forest Park’s leaders are more interested in combating the harmful news of having a longtime veteran plead guilty to a federal crime he committed on the job. The story of Sgt. Mike Murphy’s felony indictment, the April 18 plea agreement and the sentencing hearing scheduled for this summer has been reported not only locally, but in the metropolitan papers as well.
Yes, this is damaging. It hurts the reputation of the community as a whole and – fairly or unfairly – it tarnishes the badges worn by the men and women who do their jobs well. For many, what they read in the press or hear from their neighbors represents the entirety of their interaction with law enforcement.
On the contrary, the praise received by a handful of detectives and officers at the April 28 council meeting was witnessed by a sparse audience. It seems unlikely, too, that those commendations will get much play in the city papers. Sure, there’s an element of spin at work here, but it won’t reach much further than the council’s chambers. And though members of the public may recognize the obvious grab for some good news, it doesn’t mean they should dismiss the merits of what was accomplished. Surely, we can all agree that none of the officers performed so admirably because they wanted to have their photo taken.
If anything, the message delivered Monday was more for the men and women in blue than an attempt to change public perceptions.
On past occasions this newspaper has editorialized on the inconsistent and shoddy leadership that has led to several years’ worth of headaches within the department. We still stand by those criticisms. Controversial termination hearings, lawsuits, federal indictments and guilty pleas are not fabrications. The department’s suffering at the hands of a lackluster reputation is the fault of no one outside the organization.
All of this means simply that administrators in the police department have a hill to climb before those blemishes can be overlooked, or better yet, eradicated. Calling attention to those officers who have demonstrated the values and the selflessness that law enforcement worldwide has earned a reputation for makes sense, and could probably be done more often. Detectives Young Lee, Nicholas Petrovic and officers Jarlath Heveran, Dan Pater and Dan Miller are the latest examples of that here in Forest Park.