Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Different Governor; Same Mistake

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfe, after little more than a month in office, has apparently confirmed that the Peter Principal (rising to your level of incompetence) is already at work in his administration. Wolfe has chosen Former Maryland State Police Chief Marcus Brown to head the Pennsylvania State Police.

Among the reasons Wolf has picked Brown is his "commitment to diversity." I cringe every time I hear a cop single this out as his “commitment.” Such was my reaction when then New Jersey Governor James McGreevey named Joseph Fuentes as his state police chief.

I was a newspaper editor at the time, and this “cringe factor” prompted me to write the following column for the Cape May County Herald, which garnered me an award from the 2003 IFPA (Independent Free Papers of America) Conference.

I felt then as I do now, i.e., when is someone going to explain to these “top-cops” what their job really is?

* * *

You can have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the Government; while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect, and defend it.
            —­Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861.

            During my 22-plus year tenure with the Philadelphia Police Department, I became used to the term, “sworn employees.”

            You see, there were two types of city worker: civilian and sworn. My dad was a civilian employee; I and my brother, John, were sworn. That essentially meant that John and I had raised our hands and sworn an oath to uphold the City Charter, plus the state and federal constitutions.

            The pledge was short and to the point, similar in content to the one I took upon entering the U.S. Air Force some years prior. I believe all U.S. police take an equivalent oath.

            As a cop, I had sworn to protect the citizenry and their property. That was job one, and in the end, the only job that mattered. So help me, God.

            I spent 19 of my 22 years as a supervisor, and I like to believe that I was a much better commander at the end of my career than at the beginning, having never stopped learning from my experiences with the public and from my charges. With age comes wisdom, whether you choose to accept it or not. I hope I accepted much more than I rejected.

            Your job, I would advise new officers, is not that of an army of occupation, but rather that of a palace guard. “This is not us against them,'” I was always fond of pointing out.

            Keeping your sector quiet, meant that you were keeping your assigned area of patrol safe.

            It is ironic, but by the time I was leaving to pursue another career in another state, I was emotionally and morally content in my bearing and performance as a peace officer, both with those whom I served and those whom I serviced.

            And I tried never to forget why I was there; never to forget that oath. It became more meaningful with each passing month. The longer I was in the business, the more I came to disdain the, “Sorry, not my job,” mentality that would periodically emerge in some of our sworn colleagues—the oath too casually shrugged aside.

            But of course, there were often political or extrinsic circumstances that changed the landscape. We always hated that. It prevented us from doing our job — the one we had sworn to do — protect the citizenry and their property.

            Earlier this month, New Jersey State Police got a new boss: Joseph Fuentes, a 35-year veteran and a PhD. I know little about the man, but I hope he intends to do his best to protect the citizenry and their property.

            But his first “pledge” upon being nominated causes me concern. Fuentes said he would aggressively diversity the force through recruitment and training. He considers it his priority.

            Shouldn’t his priority be (I hope you’re not getting tired of hearing this) to protect the citizenry and their property? But no, here comes one of those political circumstances that changes the landscape.

            Fuentes is Governor McGreevey’s third appointment to the post. The first was accused of having mob affiliations. (Colorful term, that— mob. Makes me think of a Jimmy Cagney movie.) The next one withdrew amid threats from the minority community, worried about the latest catch-phrase: racial profiling.

            McGreevy was hurled into a corner. He had to appoint someone that the mob hated and the minority community liked. He chose Fuentes, a Hispanic, to heal the wound that racial profiling had ostensibly produced over the past years.

            I had literally hundred of officers under my supervision over my career: men, women; black, white; young, old; Jew, Gentile;  irascible, friendly — you get the idea. I found good and bad in all groups. That’s why I took (and take) pains not to judge a group, but an individual.

            One of the best cops I ever knew was Russell , a veteran white Anglo Saxon Protestant whose sector was heavily populated by émigrés from Puerto Rico. He didn’t speak their language and had no particular ties to their culture. But they loved him. He was always being invited to weddings and Christenings by the people on his sector — the sector he kept as safe and quiet as he could.

            Russell simply did his job as best he could. You know, that job I’ve already mentioned far too often. And the people who lived and worked on his sector knew it; felt it.

            I sincerely hope that, political pressures notwithstanding, Joseph Fuentes's real priority is having the New Jersey State Police do their job — the one they swore to do — as best they can. The people who live and work in our state will know it, and feel it.

            So help him, God.

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