Alan Chartock | I, Publius: Handling of suspected police OUI deserves scrutiny


GREAT BARRINGTON >> The Southern Berkshires are alive with talk of alleged abuse of police power.

Look, when it comes to police I think I've done my share. Years ago, I spent a lot of time writing about the Great Barrington Police Department, and there were negative consequences that I wouldn't wish on anyone.

We thought things had been cleaned up. There were more than a few tough guys in the department and most of them are now gone.

The town spends a great deal of money on our police department. We pay for cruisers and the latest equipment but there are some things towns like Great Barrington should not stand for.

Nobody, including the police, is above the law and it's not easy to take on the powerful police department. Let's face it — cops often, but not always, stick together.

Most of us can remember our neighbor Frank Serpico. He turned on some dirty cops and when he needed backup, they took their time getting to him. He ended up with a bullet in the head.

I was working at the New York City Police Department as a special educational adviser to the commissioner at the time. It seemed as though every time someone turned over a rock, they found police corruption.

Now we hear of a Great Barrington cop who was pulled over after straddling the center line of the road in Sheffield and suspected of drunken driving, as reported first in The Berkshire Eagle.

The Sheffield officer did exactly the right thing and called his superiors.

Thanks to some excellent reporting by Heather Bellow in the online Berkshire Edge, we learn he was told to allow the Great Barrington cop to find a ride home. Immediately social media was buzzing with questions about whether it wouldn't have been more appropriate to administer a Breathalyzer test that any civilian might have received.

Let's all remember our children who have been victims of people driving while under the influence. Think about it for a moment. If that cop was drinking and hit an oncoming car, there could have been a disaster. The police are sworn to uphold the law, not to uphold the law for others — except for themselves.

Now the Great Barrington town manager has ordered up a police report on the incident. She will act, she says, after she receives the report. This calls for an investigation all right, but not only by the police. Maybe the town manager should have done the investigation.

Is it possible that we are asking those very superiors to investigate themselves? Come on, the town needs to employ an outside, independent investigator to get to the bottom of this. Certainly there are some police officers who are very angry about this double standard for the way the police and citizens are handled. I don't blame them.

I'd love to see the Berkshire County district attorney conduct an investigation.

He has made it plain to me that he has always done what needed to be done in police cases. Now it's time for him to prove himself. What's more, let's refer this to the state attorney general.

Let's ask our state representatives and our state senator about passing laws to set up procedures for outside investigations into potential police corruption.

Let's insist that our police chief impose internal standards so that this will never happen again and that if it does, there will be immediate steps taken to investigate and even ask officers to step down until a full investigation is completed.

There's a great deal at stake here.

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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