Their View: Reaction to state police nominee shows serious culture issues within state police

The following editorial appeared in The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News.

It’s starting to look like Gov. Tom Wolf did the right thing when he went outside the ranks of the Pennsylvania state troopers in picking someone to run the law enforcement agency.

Current and retired troopers are waging a bitter campaign against Wolf’s nominee, Marcus Brown. Their reaction suggests the force harbors a clubby, insular element with the attitude that “we’re the ones who run this show, not you.” Left unchallenged, that kind of attitude can easily lead to abusive behavior by those whom society entrusts to use deadly force.

Is Brown the best possible candidate to bring that fresh, outsiders’ perspective to the troopers? That remains to be seen.

Though he grew up in Pennsylvania, attending high school here and graduating from Penn State, some legitimate concerns have been raised from Brown’s time in Maryland, where he spent most of his law enforcement career.

What’s going on says a lot more about the culture within the trooper ranks than it does about Marcus Brown.

Those questions don’t automatically disqualify him, nor does he deserve a free pass just because he is Gov. Wolf’s choice. What Brown deserves is a fair chance, in Senate hearings, to address the legitimate concerns expressed so far.

What he does not deserve is the kind of often anonymous sniping waged by those upset at him for the bogus “offense” of deciding to wear the Pennsylvania state trooper uniform. “He didn’t earn it” is his critics’ refrain.

The latest example comes from Hampden Township Police Chief Steve Junkin. A retired Pennsylvania State trooper captain, Junkin went onto an anti-Brown Facebook page and posted a message that warned Brown, “I too will do everything in my power to see that you don’t wear the uniform of a PSP Trooper.”

Junkin’s post also referred to uniformed troopers as “soldiers of the law” — evidence of a militaristic attitude that can easily lead to excessive use of force by civilian police officers. Hampden Township commissioners might want to ask themselves what sort of leader they’ve chosen for their police department.

In his Facebook post, Junkin asserted that the right to wear the trooper uniform is “not bestowed by gubernatorial edict but earned by being the best.”

That remark suggests there’s a superiority complex at work in the troopers’ ranks - one that can easily feed the attitude that “Troopers can do no wrong.”

Retired troopers like Junkin don’t run the state troopers. Neither do the current officers. The duly elected governor of Pennsylvania is in charge, and he gets to pick who runs the state troopers, subject to veto by the state Senate. That’s not an ‘edict,’ that’s what Pennsylvania’s Constitution provides.

When a symbolic matter of such little consequence stirs such vituperation toward the would-be leader of the troopers, it says a lot more about the culture within the trooper ranks than it does about Marcus Brown.

Wolf is right to challenge those parochial, self-righteous attitudes by bringing outside leadership to the Pennsylvania state troopers.