Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Playing Nice

Today's been an interesting day; at this point 24 hours ago, the Mayor's office was pushing their side in a campaign battle of words (not a war yet; two months until the elections) over jobs and then new police chief James Nice grabbed a headline.

Or two. Or three.

The Chief, who served as a F.B.I. agent prior to retirement from the federal service and taking the top cop job here, called New Franklin PD Sunday night after someone tossed a sledgehammer through the window into a bedroom of his home. We should note the Chief doesn't live in Akron, but instead lives in the New Franklin jurisdiction.

The jurisdiction part of the story is what has folks in a Twitter. Following their response to the call, which Chief Nice notes was appropriate (they were "real nice and looked around," per a single-page report to Akron Law Director Cheri Cunningham) he called APD and asked if a detective and crime scene crew could review. A supervisor, Nice reports, suggested an overnight detail to watch his home if anyone came back with more than a sledgehammer.

New Franklin PD tells they came back the next day to review the case, but were turned away from Akron PD members working the scene. Ironically, this is the kind of jurisdiction flap that usually involves state or national (like the F.B.I.) fighting with local police. It's important to note that while Akron police have mutual aid compacts with neighboring departments, there doesn't seem to be a call for mutual assistance.

Chief Nice seems to have a better understanding of the jurisdiction can of worms he's opened by inviting his officers to New Franklin, instead of calling the Summit County Sheriff. I'm guessing the propriety of using Akron city resources (the time spent by APD officers) on a case outside the city limits will be reviewed as well, overtime or not. Use of city resources outside the city limits usually doesn't set well with auditors for one, and taxpayers for another. Ask any road supervisor using city crews to fix his driveway.

There's a perception in some quarters this represents treatment that's different for Nice, that he's getting more attention than we might see if someone threw a hammer through our window. Such consideration can, sometimes, trip over the line and become "look the other way" abuse of power, the kind Cuyahoga County officials such as Jimmy Dimora will have to explain in court.

There's a fine line between special consideration and abusing privilege. All said, there's an issue which bears just as deep a thought: Chief Nice, just like others who work so hard to keep us safe, deserves more than cursory treatment. And Akron is right to make sure he gets it.

Some will argue public officials are just like the rest of us. That is true -- to a point. We elect them because we see ourselves in them. The American model has citizens elected by popular vote to work for the greater good, neighbors shouldering the burden, especially on the local municipal level.

But we don't have a right to expect public officials and workers to put their lives on the line for us, exposing themselves and their families to danger at home or off-the-job, because of the very job we expect them to do for us. Not without our taking reasonable and appropriate steps to safeguard them, as they safeguard us.

You have to take Jim Nice at his word when he believes prior undercover work targeting gangs in Akron may put him at risk. It's no understatement to suggest law enforcement officers, those working on and with gangs in particular, have every reason to fear retaliation. One doesn't need a sledgehammer through a bedroom window to figure that out.

Whether Chief Nice lives in or out of Akron is beside the point. Whether a few hours of city time is spent trying to find those responsible isn't the point, other than making sure it is done legally and doesn't stray across the line of what's right.

The point? Nice is deserving of a safe and secure place to live and spend time with his family, with efforts taken to assure his safety. It isn't asking too much that reasonable efforts be taken to protect and serve the safety of those who protect and serve us. Asking detectives from Summit County's largest police department to investigate whether their Chief is the target of violence because of work he did in Akron while with the F.B.I. is appropriate and reasonable. The offer to "sit on" his house for a night or so to see if the knuckleheads who tossed a sledgehammer and broke windows in his home isn't a waste of time or city resources when it's one of our top law enforcement officials. In fact, it's appropriate and reasonable whenever the brave men and women who carry a badge, just like Jim Nice, are at risk for doing the people's business to keep us safe.

Being a police chief -- being a police officer -- isn't the same work as the job you and I may have. Unless, of course, your job is to stop people from doing wrong and, when you can't stop them, catch those who are a menace or hurt others and make them pay the price of justice.

You don't always make friends with bad people when you put them behind bars, or cost them money, or administer a dose of living-with-others in harmony lessons. Sometimes you piss them off, and they come after you.

When they do, we need to return the favor and protect our own.

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