Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Police Escorts - Courier - Editorial: Mayoral bodyguards unnecessary

Published in the Courier News, Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Mayoral bodyguards unnecessary in Plainfield

City officials had long suggested to Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs that bodyguards should accompany her on public appearances. When rumors of a death threat against her were posted on a local blog in early July, the mayor relented, and since that time, two officers have spent most of their work weeks on bodyguard duty.

This might be a sad commentary on our times, except that officials seem to have created their own perceived security problem demanding a "response." It isn't clear that there's any credible reason for the enhanced protection.

Robinson-Briggs, by all accounts, has received no actual death threats. The rumor -- a gossip item posted online by Dan Damon, Plainfield's former public information director -- was quickly discounted by Damon himself. The origin of the rumor is unclear, although Assemblyman Jerry Green suggested that it resulted from a conversation he had with Councilman Cory Storch regarding a possible news conference on crime prevention that made its way to Damon.

Yet the desire for bodyguards predates the death threat rumor, the product, officials say, of concerns about Robinson-Briggs' hands-on governing style and her tough-on-crime stance.

Well, no knock on the mayor, but it's not as if she's walking the gritty city streets at 2 a.m. or sending out SWAT teams to round up hordes of drug dealers. New patrol officers have been added under Robinson-Briggs' administration after crime had been a focal point of her mayoral campaign last year. Murders are down over 2005. Those are some welcome signs.

But -- despite the claims of her own supporters -- there's nothing markedly different going on now that wasn't in the works under former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams. It would be silly to portray Robinson-Briggs as some sort of aggressive anti-crime crusader generating resentment and thoughts of retaliation among the bad guys. That doesn't reflect her style or actions.

This isn't a criticism of Robinson-Briggs, who we believe is serious about trying to bring crime under control. But in that regard, she is saying and doing the same things that her predecessors and other city officials have been saying and doing for many years.

So, what we have here instead is a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. First, officials decide there's a potential security threat because of how Robinson-Briggs does her job. That thought process works its way around in conversation to Damon and appears in his blog as the rumored death threat. It then bounces back to those same city officials who now see the rumor as justification for their original concerns, even though they essentially generated the rumor.

There might be some public appearances for which a police escort for Robinson-Briggs would be prudent. But they should be the exception and not the rule. The mayor said the bodyguards wouldn't cost extra money "the way it was presented to me." She should make it a point to know for herself. And while there may be no additional pay involved, the on-call security detail does regularly take officers earning a combined salary of more than $150,000 away from patrols, although officials won't comment on the extent of those diversions. That's not exactly what the City Council had in mind for such dollars when approving additional police officers.

Absent any threat against Robinson-Briggs, we see little reason for the regular bodyguard assignments.

Link to online story.

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.