Mark Keel, who took over the state Department of Public Safety in April, inherited an agency tarnished by allegations of misconduct by state troopers. A recent report that 80 current troopers have been disciplined at least twice since 2003 indicates that more housecleaning may be necessary.
Two troopers have been disciplined seven times, according to a review by The State newspaper. Improper conduct included using profanity to motorists, speaking to jurors during a trial or breaking other department rules. One trooper with at least four infractions was rehired after being accused of giving false information about an accident involving a patrol car.
Official policy allowed some sanctions not to be counted in the total number. Violations that resulted in mandatory counseling, for example, are not counted at all, and letters of reprimand are wiped from the record after a year or two.
Under current policy, troopers with at least three sanctions in categories such as failing to follow departmental rules or improper conduct can face suspension or firing. But troopers often have received the lightest punishment possible -- counseling -- for violations.
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This is a stressful job, and it is understandable that troopers might lose their tempers on occasion. It also is important to note that those with multiple infractions represent only a small percentage of the approximately 1,000 working troopers, most of whom conduct themselves professionally on the job every day.
But the high-profile violations by a few troopers, which have been well documented and, in some cases, caught on tape, were serious enough to have cost the jobs of former DPS chief James Schweitzer and Highway Patrol commander Col. Russell Roark. Both apparently had turned a blind eye to trooper misconduct.
Keel, a 28-year veteran of the State Law Enforcement Division, where he was one of two assistant directors, has close ties with the state's law enforcement community. He pledged before his confirmation to get rid of any trooper who committed serious infractions while on duty.
We think it is necessary that residents of this state are able to have full confidence in the integrity not just of most troopers but of all troopers. We hope Keel will get rid of troopers who can't meet that standard and create a strict policy that upholds discipline and ensures the quick dismissal of repeat offenders.
Records show that a number of current state troopers have committed multiple violations.
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