EDITORIAL: Police deserve credit for admitting issues
When faced with criticism, the natural impulse is to get defensive.
It's simple human nature.
No one likes to hear about their shortcomings, much less publicly admit that the critiques are justified.
When the criticism is constructive and warranted, however, the better reaction is to look within.
Self-examination is not always easy nor comfortable, but it's absolutely necessary.
The Springettsbury Township Police have apparently learned that difficult lesson and the department should be much better for it in the long run.
Recently, the township released a U.S. Department of Justice report detailing the police department's deficiencies to a crowded room of interested citizens.
The 47-page report was initiated in February when Springettsbury Township Police Chief Dan Stump requested assistance from the federal agency's Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center to identify proactive measures to build community trust and restore community-police relationships.
That's right, the chief was acknowledging his department had some serious problems and was asking for help in resolving them.
That transparency and open dialogue is truly refreshing.
It's impossible to rehash all of the report's findings here, but in short, the federal experts found limited formalized processes for the department’s handling of citizen complaints, use-of-force incidents and internal investigations, leaving officers unsure of administrative and disciplinary processes.
In recent years, the Springettsbury Police had endured three well-publicized lawsuits alleging excessive use of force, one of which resulted in a citizen fatality.
The lawsuit involving the fatality is still pending, while the other two lawsuits were settled for $250,000 each.
The report recommended that the department should formalize its policies for handling citizen complaints, use-of-force incidents and internal investigations and train its officers about administrative processes and expectations in those situations.
Hopefully the report recommendations will help avoid such incidents in the future.
Implementation is key: Acknowledging deficiencies and receiving recommendations for improvement are just the first steps, however.
Effectively implementing the proposals is even more vital. The devil, as always, is in the details.
Fortunately, Stump seems to understand that.
“I believe everything they found has value,” Stump said about the DOJ report. “I take full responsibility for those deficiencies that were found and will take full responsibility in correcting them as well.”
Right now, the department seems to have the community's backing. The Rev. Bill Kerney offered to support Stump and his department and commended the police chief for leading a “down-to-earth, transparent and open dialogue” between the Black Ministers Association and various police departments.
Stump said he was “humbled” and “thankful” that the community has shown so much interest and support for what his department is doing.
“I promise you we’re going to do our best,” Stump said. “This community is going to be proud of their police department and find us an important part of the community.”
Those are encouraging words, but they're just words.
The actions of the Springettsbury Township Police over the coming weeks, months and years will speak much louder about the department's true commitment to repairing its well-documented problems and its damaged reputation.
The community at large will be watching closely.