Contract governing Baltimore City police...

THE LABOR

February 10, 1996

THE LABOR contract governing Baltimore City police officers puts no limit on the number of sick days an officer can take. Implicit in that agreement is an assumption that sick leave will not be abused, that officers will take time off only when absolutely necessary. In the days when the department sent someone to check on officers who called in sick, abuse was no doubt kept to a minimum.

But that strict scrutiny loosened over the years, and now Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier is confronting a situation in which the average number of sick days per officer has reached 15 a year. On Feb. 6, for example, 174 patrol officers either called in sick or were on medical leave.

Factor in the reality that some 56 percent of officers take no sick leave at all, and it becomes apparent that the rest of the force is chalking up an average of 30 or more days a year. That's in addition to some 49 days off for vacation and other benefits.

No wonder the commissioner has announced a crackdown on the abuse of sick leave. This problem has grown to the point where some officers have to give up time off to compensate for their colleagues' absences. It also means that the cost for each officer on the street goes up unnecessarily -- a hard thing to explain in a city faced with doing more with shrinking resources.

Commissioner Frazier's vow to stop this sick-leave abuse is an encouraging development. So is the fact that he considers this not just a minor infraction, but an issue of integrity -- a serious matter for any police department.

A BILLION HERE, a billion there -- pretty soon it adds up to real money, as the late Sen. Everett M. Dirksen once observed.

News that the National Reconnaissance Office, the secret agency responsible for spy satellites, lost track of some $2 billion last year raises the question: What else goes astray under the cloak of secrecy?

Intelligence spending is classified, which means taxpayers never know what these agencies spend, much less how it is spent. Intelligence officials argue that secrecy is essential to their work. That is certainly true -- to a point.

In a democracy, accountability in government -- every part of government -- is essential. The Aldrich Ames case is a painful reminder why that is true.

Secrecy can cover a host of sins -- whether financial, administrative or ethical. It can also shield incompetence and hamper the work of intelligence operations from gathering accurate information.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has said it will consider making intelligence budgets public. That's a step in the right direction.

Such disclosure would be coupled with greater authority for the director of the CIA over various intelligence agencies. This may be a good idea as well -- depending on the strength of the !B director and his willingness or ability to use that power.

Intelligence gathering is necessary work. But it should not be shielded from all accountability, as so much of it is now.

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