Friday, May 16, 1997
Cops who go rotten
must be thrown out

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati cops would not make it as fruit peddlers. They don't know what to do with rotten apples.

It's not too complicated.

Just throw them out.

Rotten apples stink. They don't improve with age. Keep them around long enough and they'll contaminate the good ones.

That's why Sgt. John Sess, who admits he planted evidence on a suspect, should have been fired weeks ago.

But he was kept on the payroll for nearly a month - earning his $47,255-a-year salary.

This was after he admitted, in a mid-April job interview, that in 1984 he stuck a plastic bag of marijuana into the clothes of a struggling citizen who had just ditched his own bag of dope.

For a police department that prides itself on rapid response to crime, Cincinnati's police force has been mighty slow to move on this one.

The snail's pace damages the image of the entire force where it matters most - in the community.

Poor excuses

When Sgt. Sess planted the evidence, he was by no means an inexperienced rookie. In 1984, he was an 11-year veteran.

The sergeant recounted this highly illegal and immensely stupid act on April 19. Yet, he stayed on the job until Monday - nearly a month later - until he was suspended without pay.

Between April 19 and Monday, he took some vacation days and spent a brief stint - three or four days - on the street, working his beat. Police Chief Michael Snowden has tried to explain why Sgt. Sess was kept on the job. The incident happened years ago. He admitted doing it. There was no other evidence, no smoking gun. At least not yet.

I don't buy that explanation. I think it's just bad judgment. This is the era when cops are being told to get out of their cars, walk the beat and get to know the neighborhood. If you want the community's trust and cooperation, no police officer, regardless of rank, can ignore what it looks like to the people on the street when a cop goes bad.

Sgt. Sess fessed up to planting evidence just before he took a polygraph test. (He also let it be known that he smoked a bit of pot on a fishing trip in 1979 or 1980.)

He was being tested because he was up for a transfer. He wanted to move to the Regional Enforcement Narcotics Unit. That's RENU. The narc squad. He was not going to get a promotion or a raise in pay.

I have never seen the job description for a RENU agent. But I would bet that planting evidence and smoking dope are not on the list. Sgt. Sess has a Saturday date with Safety Director Kent Ryan. They will go over the charges of neglect of duty, failure of good behavior and ethics code violations.

The safety director could recommend that Sgt. Sess be fired. He should have been fired weeks ago.

Bad example

The delay in dealing with Sgt. Sess sends a terrible, cynical message to the community.

It suggests a double standard. It says cops aren't accountable. It implies they protect their own. It says the laws do not apply to them the way they do to you and me. It says Mark Fuhrman is not alone.

Bottom line: It rocks your faith in the men and women in blue. Worse, this is the eighth instance in the past year in which a Cincinnati police officer has been accused of acting like someone who should be wearing handcuffs.

There were the cops who fixed traffic tickets for sex. The cop who was a stalker. The cop who stole drugs. The cops who tried to cover up a traffic accident.

Now, there's the cop who planted evidence.

This gives credibility to those in the community who feel that instead of having just a few bad apples, the entire police force is incompetent, biased or crooked.

To change these feelings, the cops must make sure they police themselves as vigorously as they police the rest of the community. If they do, they'll go a long way toward earning the trust and respect they deserve.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.