Trust in Police Officers Is Vital

Among the most critical assets a good law enforcement officer possesses is the public’s trust. Without it, he or she is handicapped significantly in serving and protecting.

Ask the Belmont County Sheriff’s Department whether a particular Bellaire police officer has a problem with that.

As we reported last week, Bellaire Police Chief Richard “Dick” Flanagan hired a former Cleveland officer, Timothy Loehmann, as a part-time policeman for the village. It was Loehmann who, in 2014, shot and killed a 12-year-old boy in Cleveland. The youngster was wielding a realistic-looking pistol that turned out to be a pellet gun. Loehmann feared for his safety.

A grand jury looked into the shooting and refused to indict Loehmann. But last year, Cleveland police fired him, saying he had omitted information from his job application.

Missing was information about a previous law enforcement position in Independence, Ohio. Loehmann resigned from it after a supervisor questioned his fitness for the job and suggested he should be fired.

This week, Flanagan said Loehmann has been working with the Bellaire department, but not acting as a police officer. He cannot do that until he undergoes 16 hours of training to update a state certificate, Flanagan explained.

Loehmann was only one of the chief’s questionable hires. Also last week, we reported he had placed Eric Smith in a part-time patrolman’s job.

Smith formerly served as police chief in Bethesda. He was suspended from that position and is being investigated by the state on an allegation of misusing a law enforcement computer system.

This week, Flanagan said Smith’s last day with the Bellaire department was Oct. 1. A decision not to retain him apparently came after Flanagan talked with the Belmont County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Flanagan said he based his decisions to hire Loehmann and Smith on a belief that everyone deserves a second chance.

But quite a few people do not agree. The outpouring of criticism has been so great that the sheriff’s department has issued a social media plea that people stop calling the county 9-1-1 dispatching center to complain about Loehmann. The 9-1-1 center has nothing to do with hiring for the Bellaire Police Department, it was pointed out.

How Flanagan will proceed remains to be seen. Clearly, however, Loehmann is not trusted by a substantial number of people. One way or another, that cannot be permitted to rub off on other Bellaire police officers.

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