Investigation Procrastination

August 27, 1993

The never-ending investigation is a favorite means of handling sticky problems for government agencies.

When something unpleasant happens, officials first order a probe. Let the initial turmoil fade from public memory, say nothing so that everyone forgets about it, and the investigation might never have to be finished.

Chances are, Anne Arundel County residents have forgotten that last February county police began investigating seven officers for allegedly using steroids provided by a Dundalk doctor. At that time, police said it would take "several weeks" to see if the officers had, in fact, used steroids and if they had medical reasons for doing so. Yet here it is late August and the investigation still goes on.

Why so long? About a month ago, police said the matter turned out to be "more complex" than expected, partly because steroids are a problem that has never arisen before. This seems reasonable. Still, without more specific information we have to wonder how complicated this issue can be to drag out for 6 1/2 months. Either the officers were using steroids or they were not. Either they had prescriptions or they did not.

The Arundel police are also in the middle of more a serious RTC investigation involving officers who allegedly had sex with drug informants. Since that probe began in April, four officers have been administratively charged. Considering that two were charged only last month and since a lawsuit against the department has been filed by one of them, we expect the resolution to take some time.

Nonetheless, police and other agencies need to be reminded that the more promptly investigations are conducted -- without rushing to judgment, of course -- the better. Prompt action shows a commitment to get to the bottom of things; procrastination hints of a desire to cover them over.

The state's investigation of the Ronald Price sex scandal at Northeast High School in Arundel is an example of a quick, thorough probe that showed determination to ferret out the truth. In one month, state officials didn't answer all the questions but they provided a pretty complete picture of the chain of events and the characters involved. The inquiry satisfied an outraged public that education leaders were working to correct serious problems.

The police investigations in Anne Arundel County have not been subject to that same kind of public pressure. But they should be conducted as if they were.

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