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Von Pinnon: Police deserve scrutiny because of their authority

Today's front-page stories about area law enforcement officers being disciplined for professional missteps or ethical breaches is the latest in a series of recent Forum stories shedding light on the internal affairs of police agencies in Cass and Clay counties.

So is The Forum out to get the law enforcement community, as one agency spokesperson asked us last week?

Absolutely not.

A few months ago, we asked the Fargo Police Department for its last five years of disciplinary complaints. We had not reviewed these for many years, and we thought the public might be interested in knowing about them.

Shortly after that request was made, we decided to broaden our search to include the last five years of disciplinary complaints for police in Moorhead, West Fargo, Dilworth and Cass and Clay counties.

We thought it was fair for everyone in our core communities to know if their police officers and jailers were disciplined for abusing the powers the public affords them.

The area departments were good about getting us that public data, and we've developed several stories over the past few months from various themes found in the pile of paperwork.

Some of the records we obtained revealed the rather fresh but unrelated firings of a West Fargo police officer and a Cass County jailer. We chose to write about those two individual cases right away.

Our several reports about the disciplinary matters of the area law enforcement community illustrate that most officers and jailers here do a wonderful job, are highly ethical and well trained.

These stories also show that area law enforcement agencies have strong leaders who take their responsibilities to the public very seriously.

If police officers are anything like journalists, they want bad actors weeded out of their ranks. A few bad apples can spoil the bunch in the public's eyes.

The Fargo-Moorhead media and area law enforcement agencies have mostly enjoyed a positive, professional working relationship.

Police need the media to help the public know of crimes or issues going on around them. Police also increasingly ask for the public's help in solving crimes, and that can be best achieved using a cooperative mass media.

At the same time, the media needs the police to help it report on matters of public safety.

But despite those mutual needs, The Forum's independent obligation to the accountability reporting its readers desire and deserve is more important than keeping cozy with the cops. Every community needs that sort of journalism.

We prefer a strictly professional relationship with police, understanding they have an important public role to play that's different than ours.

A cornerstone of our role is to hold those in power accountable to the public. As a public, we afford our police officers special powers to help protect us. It's fair for us to know if they are using those powers fairly and responsibly.

Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579, or on Twitter at @inforumed

Matthew Von Pinnon

Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum.

(701) 241-5579