Dispatches from a Reporter's Notebook

The Thin Blue Line

Posted November 16, 2006 11:19 a.m. EST

Today I covered two very different stories, both about alleged police misconduct.

In one case a veteran officer was accused and ultimately pleaded guilty to three counts of larceny. At issue- getting paid for off-duty work that he didn't perform, and getting paid by the city when he was working off-duty.

The second case involves a police officer who was working off-duty security at a restaurant when she shot and killed a man who was trying to steal her car. She is fighting to get her job back. She says she was defending herself, the city maintains she violated a department policy about firing into a moving vehicle.

Regardless of the outcome of these two cases, I think they have inspired a lot of conversation in the community about what we expect of police officers, and whether or not those expectations are realistic. The bottom line is that police officers are human beings, not superheroes. They protect us, they help us, and sometimes, they disappoint us. But the majority of police officers are good, hardworking people who perform an invaluable service to the community.

It's not unlike the reaction in the community when a member of the clergy or a teacher is accused of some wrongdoing. People are outraged and befuddled. But in any large group of people, whether it is a police department or a school district, or a church, there are always going to be potential problems.

The important thing as a community is that we look at these cases individually and judge the specific facts of that specific instance rather than generalizing about police conduct. In Wake County we are fortunate to have first-rate law enforcement agencies where people work hard, have integrity, and corruption is at a minimum. They may not be superheroes, but they are super humans who deserve our respect and appreciation for a job most of us couldn't, and wouldn't do.

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