December 5, 2012 9:23:48 AM
Tuesday's news that the Columbus-Lowndes Metro Narcotics Unit has been disbanded is disturbing on a couple of levels.
First, the collapse of the unit signals the end of one of those tantalizingly rare instances where county and city entities work together for the common good.
Since its inception in 2007, the unit has earned universal praise for its effectiveness in fighting drug operations. In that time, it has proven to be an efficient, effective approach to a very serious problem.
Metro Narcotics, much like the Columbus Soccer Complex, is an example of just how much the public benefits when a spirit of cooperation exists between city and county.
The decision to break up the unit also provides another, less encouraging example: When the city and county are at odds, it is the public that suffers most. We saw a similar example last month when the city and county collided, most childishly, over the use of the city landfill.
On another level, the demise of the Metro Narcotics Unit is a regrettable example of what happens when leaders can't communicate.
As noted in Tuesday's story, the unit was disbanded after an exchange of letters between Columbus Police Department Chief Selvain McQueen and Lowndes County Sheriff Mike Arledge, which is revealing in itself. If communication between the area's top two law enforcement officers has been reduced to mailing letters, you can rest assured those relations are strained.
Details of what led to this exchange of letters are sketchy. It appears that the break-up began when Eric Lewis, McQueen's choice to fill a vacancy on the unit, was rejected by the county on the grounds that Lewis did not have Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics certification. While that certification is not listed as a requirement on the interlocal agreement that created the Metro Narcotics Unit, it was reportedly understood that it was a non-specified condition that applied.
McQueen's letter to Arledge drew a line in the sand: Accept Lewis or disband the unit. If it was a bluff, it backfired. Arledge terminated the unit.
McQueen, who came into office a year ago and professes his zeal for openness in running the CPD, would only say, "It is what it is." That is unfortunate, because he has deliberately chosen to keep the public uninformed on a topic that is very much a matter of public interest.
Certainly, McQueen has a reasonable expectation to have some say over which of his officers serve on the unit. In fact, the interlocal agreement specifically states McQueen and Arledge will have the joint ability to assign personnel. But it is also true that there should be some room for compromise. If, in fact, Lewis cannot be certified by MBN, certainly there are other CPD officers who could be certified and who would be effective. Likewise, the sheriff's department should not have absolute veto power over CPD appointments to the joint operation.
What is known is that breaking up the unit is a matter of choosing the last resort over the perfectly reasonable expectation of working out a solution. It is difficult to imagine that anyone benefits from this break-up.
And, as always seems to be the case, it is the public that suffers.
And for what purpose? To gratify egos?
We strongly urge McQueen and Arledge to give this matter the careful consideration it deserves and devise a solution that will preserve a unit that has been a success for our citizens.
Breaking up the Metro Narcotics Unit serves no useful purpose.