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Saturday, April 7, 2012

It shouldn't be a surprise when cops do the right thing

Appeared in the Sun-Times Beacon News on Sunday, April 8th

The Aurora police received major media attention with the recent release of Jonathan Moore who was exonerated on a 2000 homicide.

Our department was flooded with phone calls and emails from citizens who wanted to express their gratitude for pursuing the release of Mr. Moore after our detectives engaged in an exhaustive investigation that started when they received information that indicated Mr. Moore was not involved in the crime for which he was convicted.

I love that the public recognized this deed, but I have to admit that I was a little taken aback by the fact that people were surprised by it.

When the command staff learned of the newly acquired information, there wasn’t a discussion as to how we were going to proceed, because it was absolutely devoid of any thought or debate. The detectives were simply going to contact the state’s attorney’s office and present them with the new findings that would likely vacate the conviction of Mr. Moore.

We were not worried about the potential of the department suffering from an image of incompetency for the wrongful conviction. There was no weighing the pros and cons of coming forward with the new information and the likely fallout. In fact, everyone agreed to move to the next logical step — to right the wrong.

I have to admit that I was actually a bit offended by the public perception that covering up our mistake to save some embarrassment might have been an option over setting an innocent man free. Then I played back in my head the headlines involving police officers from across the globe who have coerced confessions, covered up improprieties and committed criminal acts. I realized that those tiny cuts resonate with the public and that it might come as a complete shock when a police department acts contrary to these perceptions.

Conceptually and intellectually I understand why the public would naturally assume the worst. But understanding it does not mean I have to accept it.

I have asked my children to omit the phrase “It’s not fair” from their vernacular because I think they should learn that life is often not fair. And yet that’s what I feel when my profession is painted with such a broad brush of corruption as a result of those few who have acted dishonorably. It’s not fair that the initial response from the public is shock that a police department acted righteously.

I’m not so much angry at the public as I am at those who took an oath of honor, duty and service, and then betrayed the public’s trust. Had it not been for those corrupt individuals in my profession, upholding integrity wouldn’t seem so rare.

In fact, it is not rare. The employees of your Aurora Police Department act with honor and integrity every day. The boots on the street, the shirts and ties in the Investigations Division, and the support staff comprise a group of people who work tirelessly toward a mission that is much bigger than all of us. There are many acts of selflessness, courage and duty that often go unnoticed, and to many of the personnel, that is precisely how they prefer it.

Re-opening a case after discovering the possibility of a wrongful conviction should never elicit public shock.

The fact that it did tells me that we police officers have a lot of work to do toward earning back the trust of the public. Even though it is unfair that we have to shoulder the burden of the few who have eroded that trust, we must vow to fight the negative perception.

Change often comes by way of evolution rather than revolution. I am confident that through our words and deeds, we will get to a place where it won’t make headlines when a police department does the right thing.

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