State police must restore public trust

The cheating epidemic at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy confirmed by a report made public Feb. 3 was disconcerting to people who up to then had unwavering faith and trust in the commonwealth’s main law enforcement department.

In the months ahead, state police leaders must provide assurances that the serious problem — this serious breach of public trust — has been addressed in a way that meets all of the expectations of right-thinking state residents.

That must include appropriate discipline if and where such action might still be warranted.

Now that the wide scope of the cheating has been determined, this blot on the department’s reputation must be addressed in a way ensuring that no window for such conduct will be left open in the future.

Part of what’s needed is more vigilance and a more hands-on commitment by those at the top of the state police ranks. The fact that the cheating occurred — and the broad scope of it — is evidence that neither had been in place during the times when the cheating occurred.

The fact that the cheating was much more than an isolated incident even raises the legitimate question of whether some top state police commanders had turned a blind eye to what was occurring, allowing the perception of academy superiority and unfailing commitment to excellence not to be disrupted.

Whether a new academy policy on exchange of information, term limits for instructors and a planned software program that could create unique tests for cadet classes will be enough remains a matter of speculation.

But the bigger — and very troubling — question is why this statewide police agency needs such honesty safeguards at all.

An internal probe of the alleged cheating began in December 2015 after an academy staff member found in a hallway what was determined to be a test cheat sheet for a traffic law exam. The state police disclosed their investigation a year ago and requested a probe by the Office of the Inspector General.

As an Associated Press article in the Feb. 4 Mirror reported, dozens of cadets from the academy’s 144th class, which began in September 2015 and was due to graduate in March 2016, were dismissed or resigned but that no other instructor, cadet or trooper was similarly punished.

However, one member of an earlier class reportedly told police internal affairs investigators that an instructor “read the full entire test off to us and gave us every single answer.”

Nearly all members of the 144th class who were interviewed said instructors, troopers or academy staff provided test answers or study guides that mirrored a test, and nearly all alleged that prior classes had received similar information.

The 47-page investigation report listed at least six instructors who admitted to providing answers to cadets, yet there’s been no indication that any of them face disciplinary actions stemming from the probe’s findings.

State Police Commissioner Tyree Blocker blamed the scandal on a “culture of complacency” that was a recent phenomenon.

However, “recent phenomenon” is open to skepticism and debate as a result of Blocker’s own admittance that the reach of the internal affairs probe to other cadet classes was limited.

Years will pass before this damage-to-image now clouding the state police is repaired.