The last thing a police force needs is to be handcuffed by administrators.
Yet, that is what the Dougherty County school superintendent was doing when his assistant superintendent ordered the school system's chief of police to clear any arrests and warrants taken with Superintendent Joshua Murfree before any action was taken.
In an email sent the morning of March 15, Assistant School Superintendent Kenneth Goseer wrote to Dougherty School System Police Chief Troy Conley and gave him precise instructions on the daily execution of police work being performed by his department.
"As of today March 15, 2012," Goseer wrote, "there will be no more warrants or arrest made unless authorized by Superintendent Joshua Murfree. Please inform ALL Officers. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me."
This order is, in a word, ridiculous.
Police work is protection of the public and upholding laws, not checking to see first what the political fallout might be, as a later response to Murfree implies. As the chief executive officer of the school system, it would seem proper that any arrests involving students, teachers, school personnel or board members effected by the school system police force should be brought to Murfree's attention, but only after the fact. To do otherwise would place the police chief and officers in an untenable position as far as law enforcement.
Conley responded strongly to the order, noting its underlying illegality.
"With all due respect sir," Conley wrote to Goseer and copied to Murfree, "I will not be able to comply with your directive, being that it is unlawful. As a certified Chief of Police of the State of Georgia I must inform you that you do not have the authority to instruct or direct me to seek authorization or approval when addressing violations of local, state and federal laws. Neither you nor the Superintendent have powers of arrest. As the Chief of Police I am mandated by the State of Georgia to adhere to laws that govern our state and country. I have attempted to explain this matter to you in the past, perhaps we should seek legal guidance for further clarification."
What's clear in Conley's response is that this isn't the first time the school administration has attempted to interfere with the operations of the system's police department. The assessment by Conley, however, drew a response from Murfree:
"We are not trying to be unlawful," Murfree wrote, "I am getting hit for not having information and being accused of knowing when I was not informed. We all work for the Dougherty county school system."
And that gets to the root of the matter -- it's an attempt to get political cover. Murfree has caught heat because of work performed by the system's police and he's willing to compromise the integrity of the department to cool it off.
It's also the clearest of reasons why no police department should ever have to "clear" its work with non-law enforcement administrators and elected officials, a situation that can only serve to open up police officers to undue pressure from "on high." We can imagine that at least two unpopular cases filed by the Dougherty school police might have turned out much differently had the system's police been required to get the superintendent's unlikely blessing before charges could have been brought.
There's no good law enforcement-related reason for civilian administrators to have veto power over whether charges should be lodged and warrants taken, and there are innumerable good reasons for keeping those civilians' noses out of police business. Chief Conley should continue to stand his ground and maintain the integrity of his department.
-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board