One glance at this newspaper each day tells the story about how drugs – especially heroin and prescription pain pills – have infiltrated our communities, spurred rising crime rates and ruined countless lives....
Despite recent, well-reported incidents across the country of police using unnecessary or highly questionable lethal force, most people understand policing is an enormously difficult and demanding job, and the overwhelming majority of officers act within the parameters of the law.
It’s kind of like the old saw about airplane crashes – we don’t report on the thousands of planes that routinely glide to safe landings. We report on the landings that don’t go so well, simply because they’re so rare.
But there are some ways, particularly in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C., Eric Garner in New York and Freddie Gray in Baltimore that police can help increase public trust: Minimize the use of overly-aggressive tactics and the use of cast-off equipment from the Pentagon designed for war zones; use body cameras; and hire officers who hail from, or look like, the communities they serve.
Police agencies should also offer complete transparency when it comes to investigating incidents when force is used.
According to a recent story by the nonprofit investigative news agency PublicSource, the Pennsylvania State Police could be doing better on that front.
The report by Jeffrey Benzing, which appeared in the Observer-Reporter Sept. 29, details how over the last seven years, Pennsylvania State Police troopers fired their weapons at least 120 times in the course of their jobs. Of those 120 shootings, only one was deemed improper by internal investigators, and details from the incident were kept under wraps, with state police insisting it is a personnel matter.
Though it’s possible that in 119 of 120 incidents, Pennsylvania State Police were correct in using their weapons, because a suspect they were facing immediately threatened the lives of officers or others within the vicinity, that’s a batting average that should raise eyebrows. We can’t really know for sure if those 119 incidents fell within the guidelines state troopers must follow because the state police provided only a meager amount of information about their investigations despite three open-records requests from PublicSource.
As the story noted, “The pristine record of the Pennsylvania State Police could well be a mark of strong training, rather than a record of poor judgment. But that is impossible to examine because there is so little information about the investigations.”
Within the state police, investigations are handled by troopers outside the chain of command of anyone whose actions are being scrutinized, and, occasionally by other police departments. But we, and others, believe these investigations would be better handled if they were carried out not by fellow troopers or officers, but by knowledgeable third parties who would not know any of the individuals involved and have no stake in the outcome.
“Asking an agency, any police agency, to police itself is fraught with peril,” Pittsburgh attorney Joel Sansone told PublicSource.
Alpha Natural Resources recently informed employees at its Emerald Mine in Waynesburg that it will close the 38-year-old coal mine by the end of November.
The company announced a year ago the mine would close as it ran out of coal to mine, so the notification came as no surprise. However, that certainly doesn’t lessen the impact on many of the 290 employees who will lose their jobs, or the impact the closing of the mine will have on the local economy.
At the time of the company’s announcement, the mine had employed about 500 workers, and during the past year about 140 of them had been able to transfer to Alpha’s nearby Cumberland Mine. The company earlier said it planned to beef up production at Cumberland to make up for the production loss resulting from Emerald’s closing, so there is still a chance additional Emerald miners will find jobs at Cumberland.
Many of the employees who aren’t transferred, however, will probably have difficulty finding other mining jobs, given the state of the coal industry, or jobs that pay as well. Some may re-train and begin other careers, including those in the natural gas industry, which now appears to have a brighter future. Others, however, may move on, seeking employment in areas where there is a more diverse economy.
Local businesses that provide services to the mine, such as machine shops and parts suppliers, will suffer, as will the Central Greene School District, which receives a sizeable chunk of property tax revenue from coal.
And less than a week before Emerald informed employees of the closing, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection held a public meeting to discuss the state’s compliance with the federal Clean Power Plan regulations. Those regulations, limiting carbon dioxide emission from power plants, are expected to dramatically reduce the burning of coal for electrical power generation.
Coal will undoubtedly continue to be mined in Greene County for some time. This area’s mines, most of which employ longwall mining systems, are extremely efficient. Still, the closing will hurt Greene County and we believe is a reminder of the slow decline of the coal industry.
On a day when President Obama spoke at the United Nations, met for the first time in a good while with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, the Syrian refugee crisis continued unabated, Pope Francis arrived back at the Vatican, and Trevor Noah took over Jon Stewart’s seat on “The Daily......