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Micro-management of police isn't needed

IN 1989, the Legislature passed what legislators billed as the toughest ethics law in the land. Hyperbole aside, before there was a law, members of the Board of Regents saw no problem in accepting $1,500 vacation trips to the Fiesta Bowl.

In the quarter-century since the law's passage, the Ethics Commission has done a pretty good job in reeling people in who have little shame.

For example, in June the commission unanimously struck down the notion that employees of public service districts can sell PSD equipment on eBay and pocket the money.

Yes, there are public employees in West Virginia who see nothing wrong with selling public property for private gain.

"When I complained about it, they admitted it was going on, but said, 'we don't have a policy about this'," said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, who filed the complaint in this case.

Now they do.

But as laudable as the commission's efforts have been, a ruling last week went over-the-top in restricting local police.

As described by Phil Kabler of the Gazette, the operator of a fast-food restaurant approached officials in a municipality to see if police officers could hand out free coupons to people who do good deeds or obey the law, for example, children wearing helmets while they ride bikes.

Advocates say this is community policing, but by a 4-3 vote, the Ethics Commission ruled that this was a de facto endorsement of the restaurant.

Why a coupon for free French fries might lead to the purchase of a hamburger, which would lead to - dare we say - profits.

The way around this would be to simply allow all restaurants in a community offer such coupons. That way, no one restaurant would have an advantage.

The Ethics Commission surely has real ethical dilemmas to solve.

This ruling smacks of micro-management and borders on peevishness, and discourages police and other community organizations from taking decisive, positive steps forward.

Society trusts police officers with an array of firearms. Surely officers can handle handing out coupons for a free ice cream cone without guidance from the state.


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