16 August 2015

Rocky Ford a.k.a. Bad Copville

Rocky Ford is not a town with a good track record of quality control.

For the past few years, until a few months ago, the small town in Southeast Colorado was known for the disastrous listeria ridden cantaloupes called "Rocky Ford Sweets" from Jensen Farms that killed thirty-three people in 2011.

Now, it has another claim to infamy.  It turns out that the town made it its business to hire cops who had already been discovered to be bad apples.  Four out of ten officers on the force have prior serious criminal records or histories of discipline in previous law enforcement jobs.

In November of 2014, one of those bad cops with a history of using excessive force shot an unarmed man in the back, killing him, and then pepper sprayed the man and fled, while on duty.  Unlike most cases of this type, the bad cop who did it was fired and charged with second degree murder in a prosecution that is currently in progress.

This "second chance" hiring policy may have been modeled on the Vatican's policy of relocating priests who sexually abused children to new posts where families of new potential victims didn't know about the priests' prior crimes.  The policy didn't work out well for the Roman Catholic Church.  It turns out that their second chance priests (and often there were many "second" chances), had a strong tendency to reoffend and require the church to engage in more cover ups.

It also doesn't turn out to be working that well for Rocky Ford.

There is absolutely room in the world for giving people second chances in life.  But, giving someone a second chance in life doesn't mean that one should give that person who has proven himself to be ill suited for a task a second chance in a position of public trust ripe for a repeat of the mistakes that this person made the last time.  A second chance like that is just another name for corruption.

If you give a priest who abused children a second chance (and that second chance should come only after the priest and the church apologizes to the victims, tries to compensate the victims, reports the incident to authorities and punishes the priest), that second chance should be an a monastery or a prison ministry, not a parish serving young families or a youth camp.

If you give a cop who screwed up a second chance, it should be in a position that doesn't involve giving him a gun, or putting him in a position of authority over others, like driving a truck, working on a farm, or framing new apartment buildings.

Of course, as the Denver Post's excellent investigative journalism on this story (credit where credit is due in an increasingly understaffed newspaper) points out, the Colorado Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, the licensing body for state and local law enforcement officers in the state, is also to blame.  At least 39 other states make it harder for bad cops to remain licensed as law enforcement officers and at least 18 other states require employers of bad cops to inform state authorities when police officers are fired or resign.  In contrast, "Colorado will not even share the employment history it does have with the chiefs wanting to know about an applicant's background."

If the state licensing authority for law enforcement tells law enforcement offices that an individual meets state standards to do the job, it is natural that offices with tight budgets, like Rocky Ford, are going to hire bottom of the barrel candidates in order to make it possible for them to pay bottom of the barrel salaries.

Yet, when the government puts someone on the street with expanded authority relative to an ordinary person to use deadly force, qualified immunity from civil liability, and deadly weapons, privacy should take a back seat to public safety.

Not all tragedies can be prevented.  Some are inevitable.  But, we need to do a better job at preventing the tragedies that are eminently predictable.

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