Betrayal and stupidity Anne Arundel County: When cops get in trouble, big or small, they erode public trust.

April 03, 1996

THE ANNE ARUNDEL County Police Department, which has been relatively free of controversy in recent months, had a bad week last week.

Within two days, two officers had been charged with crimes, both betrayals of public trust, one an example of mind-numbing stupidity. One officer is accused of sexually assaulting women; the other of shoplifting 10 packs of baseball cards from a Glen Burnie Wal-Mart while in uniform. Like any police wrongdoing, these incidents damage the department's reputation, each in its own way.

In terms of seriousness, of course, the two allegations do not compare. Stealing baseball cards is such a petty-ante crime it wouldn't normally make a newspaper's police blotter.

But when a police officer is accused of breaking the law it's an issue, even if the crime involves only a few dollars' worth of trading cards. What Officer David Heline allegedly did might seem laughably idiotic, reminiscent of some middle school prank and harmless to anyone but himself. But when a uniformed officer walks into your store, you shouldn't have to worry if he's going to rip you off. The officer has resigned since the charges were brought.

Likewise, when an officer shows you his badge and offers you a ride home, you should not have to worry that he'll harm you. There is no worse offense an officer can commit, no worse betrayal. Michael D. Feeney, a 17-year veteran, has been charged with molesting a distressed woman he met in a 7-Eleven store in Glen Burnie. He had offered her a ride home, after showing his badge to assure her she would be safe. (Another alleged crime took place when Mr. Feeney was working off-duty as a security guard.)

Anne Arundel's police department has seen this kind of behavior before. Years ago, offenses against women -- both within and outside the department -- had become such a problem that police leaders required all officers to attend seminars on sexual harassment. Though still unproved, the latest accusations should remind police leaders of the need for strong punishments for misuse of an officer's power and constant emphasis on ethical behavior. The police are not like the rest of us. They must adhere to a higher standard. The smallest infraction erodes public respect and trust.

Pub Date: 4/03/96

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