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Brooksville police chief owes loyalty to public, not officer

Malloy and Reed had it in Adam-12. So did Sipowicz and Kelly and his long line of replacements on NYPD Blue.

I'm talking about the brotherhood of cops. Outsiders like me had to learn about it from TV. Insiders say this is one Hollywood cliche that is more or less true: The bond among fellow cops is tighter than among the rest of us cubicle-dwelling drudges.

Deputies are "like your kids,'' said former Hernando Sheriff Tom Mylander. "It's a family, let's face it — a tightly knit family.''

They share danger. They back up each other. And — because this is what you do for brothers, sisters and sons — they sometimes overlook one another's flaws.

What else could explain Brooksville police Chief George Turner's ridiculous statement that Shawn Terry is a "fine officer"?

In case you missed John Frank's story in Sunday's Times, Terry has been the subject of numerous complaints, investigations or reprimands over his 10-year career.

He was referred to a psychologist when his superiors at the Hernando Sheriff's Office noticed a large number of the kind of charges, including battery on a law enforcement officer, that indicated he had an undesirable knack for confrontational arrests.

When he was assigned by the Sheriff's Office to investigate the case of a former stripper who accused her ex-husband of abusing their daughter, the stripper said Terry had sex with her. He denied it, but refused to take a stress test for an internal investigation and soon jumped to the Brooksville Police Department.

Among the highlights of his three-year career there is a sworn statement that he had not coached a witness in a drug case. An in-car camera, however, caught the whole thing on video, and in a separate case a few months later a defense attorney was able to use this incident to help undermine Terry's credibility.

So instead of "fine,'' how about dishonest, a bully, a liability — the kind of guy who shouldn't be a cop anywhere unless he and his employers take serious steps at rehabilitation?

Why won't Turner say so? Maybe because, among the rank-and-file, it would be interpreted as disloyal, as the boss turning against one of his own.

Sheriffs and police chiefs are sometimes penalized for weeding out bad cops. It's one reason, I believe, so many members of his own force campaigned against Sheriff Richard Nugent in 2004. Mylander said disciplining deputies is one of the hardest parts of the job — but absolutely necessary.

"It's like I told the guys,'' he said. "We can't have the agency destroyed by just one person, and we're going to do what we need to do to maintain its credibility.''

The credibility of the Brooksville Police Department, under former Chief Ed Tincher, took a hit when it hired Terry. But, then again, it never had much under Tincher. The shame is that Turner had a chance to restore the department's reputation — a chance he risks blowing if he continues defending Turner out of a misplaced sense of loyalty.

Because, wonderful as this strong feeling of partnership among officers can be, they aren't family; they're public servants.

Maybe Turner needs to be reminded of this. He pledged to "protect and serve'' the people of Brooksville, not cowboy officers like Shawn Terry.

Brooksville police chief owes loyalty to public, not officer 11/24/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 24, 2009 6:41pm]
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