EDITORIAL: Why was York City cop fired? Public has right to know

York Dispatch
York City Council members, from left, H. Michael Buckingham, Vice President Sandie Walker, President Henry Nixon, Judy Ritter-Dixon and Edquina Washington take the stage during a York City Council Town Hall Meeting at Logos Academy in York City, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Move along, nothing to see here, they said.

York City Council did its best made-for-TV cop impression on Tuesday when its members rebuffed requests to provide any detail whatsoever regarding the firing of city police Officer Michael Roosen. 

In yet another defeat for the public's right to know, council members stuck to the script, passed a vaguely worded resolution sacking Roosen and, when asked for specifics, fell back on the classic legalese that serves only to garner mistrust among the very people they serve.

Look, we get it — Roosen is expected to appeal. The union that represents him, White Rose Fraternal Order of Police, is hugely powerful. And York City attorneys are anxious about lawsuits.

But at what point does a local official's respect for his or her constituency kick in? Almost never, when it comes to cops allegedly behaving badly.

Police officers wield immense power in a community, power that can only be checked by informed public scrutiny.

They're armed. They're supported by a multi-billion-dollar prosecutorial infrastructure. They're backed by unions that favor what's good for the member — from the finest to the most incompetent — over what's best for public safety. They're often exempt from prosecution. They're rarely convicted in the event the worst actors ever see a court room.

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And in 2017, the Pennsylvania Legislature, at the behest of police organizations throughout the state, exempted body camera footage from the state's Right to Know Law, a move that exposed as pretext all the promises of bolstered "accountability" that won support for the technology.

Cops have become exceedingly adept at dodging public scrutiny, a reality that threatens the sweeping public support that represents, at society's core, their mandate. 

It's very possible that Roosen's firing was the result of a slew of relatively minor alleged infractions. It's also possible that his behavior was downright egregious. In either event, the decision among York's elected class to offer no explanation is yet another example of a system designed to duck accountability.

Yes, Roosen has rights. And he will exercise them in his upcoming appeal, a hearing that is likely to occur behind closed doors. But his is a job funded by York's taxpayers and in service to its citizens. These are the same people City Council members were elected to represent. And they're the people to whom City Council members should answer. 

On Tuesday, City Council members instead bowed to the police union. In so doing, they trampled on their constituents' right to hold government to account.