Probe Criticism Of Police Chief

If Bethesda Police Chief Eric Smith is guilty of the behavior of which he has been accused, he ought to be disciplined. Village council members should waste no time in determining the facts — whether they support allegations against Smith or not.

During a council meeting last week, a parade of people aired complaints against Smith. Businessman Joel Braido referred to the chief in commenting that “strong-armed, disrespectful, untruthful law enforcement is never a good substitute for a rational, level-headed approach to upholding the law and serving the best interest of the community.”

“Chief Smith has created a hostile work environment at the city building,” Braido added, elaborating that the chief has been insubordinate and openly disrespectful toward Mayor Martin Lucas.

And, Braido concluded, he has been told Smith was suspended from participation in the county’s Major Crimes Unit.

Several other people accused Smith of misbehavior, often drawing applause for their comments. One man said the chief “abuses his power, is rude, is more flash than substance, refuses to humble himself and engages in conflict of interest.”

But Smith had his defenders, too. Lorita Bee, wife of a councilman, noted she has a son on the police department. “I have full confidence in Chief Smith,” she said.

Another woman told council she has never had a complaint against Smith. “I’d like to thank Eric,” she added.

It needs to be kept in mind that law enforcement officers make enemies frequently — sometimes among people they are trying to help. It is in the nature of their work.

Still, the number and nature of complaints against Smith leave council members no choice but to investigate. During last week’s meeting, Mayor Lucas said he planned to look into the allegations and discuss them at the next council meeting, on March 22. If the mayor determines disciplinary action is necessary, the full council would become involved and Smith would be given a hearing.

Lucas should not proceed on his own. He should enlist help, including some members of council, to look into the situation. The sooner an objective, thorough investigation is done, the better.

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