St. Clair County Sheriff's Capt. Steve Johnson must have been in a reflective mood this week, troubled by the investigation of New Athens' police chief. He quoted from Sir Robert Peel, father of modern policing, who in 1829 was discussing the relationship between the public and the police, "... the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence."
Johnson's interpretation of that quote was that police officers are not above the law.
If the charges are proven, then New Athens Police Chief Dallas W. Hill did indeed believe he was above the law. The three felony charges state that the 27-year-old chief took an iPod and iPad out of the police evidence room and used them for himself.
Coming on the heels of East St. Louis Police Chief Michael Baxton going to federal prison for thinking a trunk full of Xbox 360 consoles were his for the taking, the charges against Hill are especially troubling. What member of law enforcement was unaware after the Baxton example that someone would find out and tell, or that it might well be a trap set by the feds?
So why would Hill think he could get away with it?
Maybe he thought his sacrifice for the department entitled him to the perk of "borrowing" free electronics. Maybe he thought he was smarter than those around him and could get away with it.
Regardless, Peel was on target 183 years ago. The police are just members of the public. They are not above the law. In fact, because they are entrusted with our safety, they are even more subject to the rule of law and less entitled to the benefit of the doubt.