May 21, 2009
With the punishment of four Columbus police officers Tuesday for their juvenile behavior May 5 at Vicksburg National Military Park, and an apology from the Columbus Police Department, we are hoping all parties can move on.
That said, we wish several aspects of this episode had been handled better.
The officers were suspended for 15 working days without pay. Some of our readers felt they should have been fired, while others expressed cynicism that the officers would be punished at all.
We feel that the punishment handed down by city leaders was appropriate. That said, the behavior was so utterly ridiculous, the mere fact that city leaders and others had to waste their time contemplating a punishment for it is an insult in itself.
The officers'' behavior, not disputed by the officers'' attorney, included crowding into a marked Columbus police cruiser; allowing two people -- not city officers, but a deputy sheriff and his fiancé -- to ride in the car''s open trunk; and getting on the wrong side of a U.S. park ranger responding to complaints about them. Those witness complaints, which the officers'' lawyer disputes, include playing loud music from the car and flashing the car''s lights at passersby.
The visit elicited a letter of complaint from the ranger, a call from the director of the conference the officers were supposed be attending, and actions from Chief Joseph St. John including calling the officers back home early and placing them on paid leave while the department investigated the incident.
St. John should be given points for calling the officers home immediately. However, some other actions were lacking:
This may seem like nitpicking to most. But for a department that has had its professionalism and commitment to excellence tarnished and called into question, someone at least should make sure that written statements sent from the building display some level of competence. This e-mail didn''t.
We hope that whatever the department affixed a stamp to and mailed to Vicksburg on a city letterhead was more coherent.
In the end, the taxpaying public won''t get back the money they shelled out to send these guys to the conference, or the money paid for gas and wear and tear on the car. Nor will we get back the money we paid the officers to sit in a corner, while we paid their colleagues to investigate their ridiculous behavior. These are funds that run in the thousands, during austere times for the city.
We received an apology from the police department. We hope that apology has meaning behind it, and is a signal that the department will renew a commitment to professionalism throughout its ranks.
Once all is considered, we also think it wouldn''t hurt to hear from the officers themselves. Maybe instead of a long statement from a lawyer justifying the behavior, we''d get a simple "Sorry, we screwed up. It won''t happen again."
We feel you owe it to us.