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Start over with troopers

July 29, 2005

You would think that Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell's decision to hire 120 new state troopers would be an action welcomed by existing members of the state police.

Not so, because Rendell also wants to "civilianize" 60 positions, a move opposed by the police union. There's room for negotiation here, if both sides will approach the talks with an open mind.

On Wednesday, the governor called a news conference to ask the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association to accept the plan to have civilians do forensic analysis and handle liquor-code enforcement and communications duties.

Rendell struck a nerve when he singled out procurement as one area that could be handled by civilians,as opposed to trained troopers.

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Rendell told The Associated Press that "They basically order, get and hand out socks to other policemen."

Sgt. Bruce Edwards, head of the union, fired back, noting that such officers are also in charge of ammunition and tear gas.

This is a case where the governor complicated what should have been a simple situation by failing to talk to the people who would be affected.

It's clear to us that the state police have an esprit de corps, a spirit that leads troopers to support one another as members of the organization. If they perceive that the governor is trying to downgrade some in their ranks, their tendency will be to resist.

That is so despite the fact that Rendell's objective of putting more officers on the street makes a great deal of sense. Had he approached the troopers for help in solving this problem, as opposed to trying to impose a solution, he would have gotten a lot further.

Why are some troopers assigned to functions that could be done by civilians instead? We would bet that some are veteran officers who no longer want to do road patrol, but who feel they have something to contribute nonetheless.

The governor should think about all of these possibilities, then approach the troopers union about starting these talks over.

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