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Truth a prime suspect in Pasco Sheriff's Office

There is an old newsroom axiom that if your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.

It's a joke, of course, but it makes for a good reminder to reporters.

I have encountered only a few places where I felt compelled to live by those words. They are places where everyone's veracity is in doubt, where disinformation is considered a skill, and where distortions, half-truths and lies justify the ends.

One place is Washington, D.C. Another is the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. I don't mean Pasco County Sheriff Lee Cannon or his staff specifically, but all the political cognoscenti inside and outside the department, who are obsessed with its control.

If anyone knows the truth about the Sheriff's Office you are welcome to tell me but I probably won't believe you. So many politically motivated allegations, rebuttals and counter allegations have made me irrevocably skeptical about everything I hear, no matter how plausible.

Why we subject our career police officers to so much partisan rancor is beyond me. These guys lay it on the line for us. They deserve the command of professionals, not politicians.

If you ask me, we should cancel the next election for sheriff and empower Pasco County commissioners to appoint someone to the office just as they appoint the county administrator.

As it stands, I regard the Sheriff's Office and its political enemies the same way I regard Washington _ a place where truth is a toy. If truth happens to be on your side, use it. If not, talk around it, twist it or just ignore it. The ultimate objective is to whip up public support for your cause, to further your own political agenda.

Politics in Washington is like soil in a farm state. Practically everybody's job depends upon it one way or another. That's the way the system was envisioned by the founders. Maybe I'm too cynical, but I accept disinformation as part of the process in Washington. Call it fertilizer.

I don't accept disinformation as part of the process of installing a sheriff. Like a lot of folks, I value professionalism and discipline in my local police force. I want to know what is necessary to train and equip local cops and to reward them with wages sufficient to retain the best. I'm happy to pay my share for that, until politics interferes with professional judgment.

I'm not interested in subsidizing anybody's political ambition, nor do I think it wise to erode public confidence and officer morale with endless charges and countercharges of malfeasance. Unfortunately, that is the tradition in Pasco County.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not teeing off on Lee Cannon or his opponents. They are all politicians. What really bothers me is the process by which a sheriff comes into office.

We expect our sheriff to run as an ordinary political candidate, raising money and organizing campaigns. We do this, knowing that to succeed a candidate must assemble a clique of supporters and contributors, some of whom are probably unqualified for police work.

We also know that victorious politicians face immediate pressure to repay the loyalty of their supporters. Yet our system pretends that the incoming sheriff will suddenly behave as though he was appointed to office, ignoring the political forces that put him there in the first place.

How realistic is that? I'm sure there are some individuals who can pull it off but they are indeed extraordinary.

For most politicians, the huge reservoir of political patronage at the disposal of the sheriff is a tempting plum. The sheriff employs hundreds of people. Is it realistic to expect him not to hire his own political cronies and fire the cronies from the previous regime? Can we expect an incumbent politician to refrain completely from using his office for re-election?

Of course not. Besides, to some extent patronage is a legitimate part of our political system. It just isn't compatible with the mission of law enforcement.

The bottom line is that we're trying to have it both ways. We want to elect our sheriff, then ask him to behave as though he was appointed. It's a silly concept and the results are obviously messy.

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