THE GREEN HAZE - Shiny Badges On The Slippery Slope

(03/29/2001)

HEROES

A God-created soul which will be true to its origin. Thomas Caryle

A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer. Ralph Waldo Emerson

By Bob Weaver
re-published from September, 2001

In my childhood days of the 1950's, I would slump into my seat in the darkened Kanawha Theater on Main Street in Grantsville watching the Saturday western heroes fill the screen. The likes of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and the Durango Kid.

Some weasly no-good hombre would threaten the town or try to take something that didn't belong to them. The white hats would chase the black hats up and down the rocky hills and across the sagebrush plains.

Sometimes the good guys would almost fail, be tempted to do bad or almost lose their courage.

But you could always count on them to come through before the house lights came up - one more time - truth, justice and the American way. They became my heroes, those cowboy guys and the shiny badges in those western towns.

Rescuers who took risks, stood up and did the right thing.

The closest I came to becoming one of those guys was being a volunteer firemen for eighteen years, sometimes as a Rescue Chief, and providing emergency medical service in the dark ages, in my mind, not so long ago.

Years later, my throat turns dry and I choke to speak about the policemen and fireman who gave their all in New York City on September 11, 2001.

I understand the mental decision and mind set of responding to the call. An English proverb said One who is afraid to run away, a calling on a higher nature of the soul.

It has been with anguish my small-time writer skills have reported on my policemen heroes, in this case a few members of the West Virginia State Police.

Before me is a troubling list of questionable incidents. I want my policemen to be strong, brave, honest and true.

Most of them are good men and women doing good, but some of them, for reasons I do not understand, have gone down a slippery road violating the trust we have placed upon them.

As Editor of The Herald, I certainly have experienced a "wall of silence," a violation of common First Amendment rights, and the intimidating behavior of some of the officers.

There seems to be an endless list of incidents, failures and unprofessional behavior.

The problem must be deeper than the incidents.

An agency unable to control its own, sometimes going through the motions of accountability, but otherwise oblivious to the the internal culture of the organization and the problems it has wrought.

An agency that blames others for its' own problems.

Some have suggested the problems stem from quasi-military training which creates a us vs. them mentality; the failure of green on green investigations dealing with misconduct; the constant filing of lawsuits within the organization over personnel issues or possibly politicians pandering to the police lobby.

Others believe it is the lack of basic supervision (where each officer often appears to act as an independent agent); the keeping of "bad boy" files against one another; policemen with personality problems, mental health problems or alcoholism that go untreated; the lack of educational requirements beyond a GED and Police Academy; the cost of training a trooper, the organization fearful of losing an officer.

In Calhoun County the bad behavior and the poor performance has become part of our cultural lexicon.

More recently the cases have become better documented, involving the throwing of a MagLite though an innocent person's window; the banging of a kid's head into a car trunk after he passed on a yellow line, the apparent lying on a witness stand to make a case; or the beating-up of "bad guys."

Police psychologists suggest many officers suffer from "burn out" and begin to exhibit out of control behavior.

Others have suggested out of control egos that convince officers they are not accountable to the public they serve. Col. Howard Hill, head of the agency, has adequately defined the problem, saying "I would like to pick up a paper and not see where an officer is in trouble." Whether he has the grit and support to head in a new direction, remains to be seen.

Sometimes it has been law enforcement by intimidation, rather than respect.

Granted, much has changed since the days of long-time trooper Lloyd Haynes, whose omni-presence commanded respect. One time he told me "I usually don't have to investigate the crime. People will come to my door, knock, and tell me what happened." Haynes had trust and respect.

In a time when most of us desire to revere our officers, I am hopeful when the "lights come up" the agency and the policemen we desperately want to respect will once again be heroes, mine and yours.


Hur Herald ®from Sunny Cal
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