Our opinion: Transparency well served

Posted

Last week's police shooting in Brattleboro reminds us what a profound power we have given police in our society, and why it's so important that the exercise of that power is carried out with as much transparency as can reasonably be provided.

Our society has given its law enforcement officers the right to carry and use firearms to protect us, and themselves. In doing so, we have placed a great burden on those officers: We have asked them to make split-second decisions on when and how to use lethal weapons.

It's not fair to expect anyone to play God and make life or death decisions in seconds; but then again, living in the world's most heavily armed society, it would be even more unfair to expect police officers to execute their duties without reasonable self protection. In no small way, it only underscores the difficulty of the role we have given law enforcement, and why a highly-trained police force is money well spent.

When that power is exercised, government, deriving its authority from the consent of the governed, must be held accountable by its citizens.

That is the reason why we reported the names of the officers involved, and why we are compelled to do so every time this situation arises. It is not to bring undue attention to those officers, but simply to play our essential role in holding government accountable.

The good news here is that accountability was well served when Brattleboro and State Police, within the first 24 hours of the investigation into the shooting of armed robbery suspect Mark Triolo, made the officers' names public, and revealed Triolo was not in possession of his weapon at the time he was shot.

Transparency is easy when the facts of the case are clear. The real test is remaining committed to transparency when the circumstances are more complicated, and not everything went according to plan.

Police could have delayed the release of that information and used the pending investigation of the shooting as an excuse for delays. They didn't.

That disclosure reflects the standard we should expect. It shows understanding of an important concept — the public's right to know. It goes back to Article 6 of our state Constitution: "That all power being originally inherent in and consequently derived from the people, therefore, all officers of government, whether legislative or executive, are their trustees and servants; and at all times, in a legal way, accountable to them."

Triolo, believe it or not, is a lucky man. It's true that he sustained gunshot wounds, and that he will face criminal prosecution from the U.S. Department of Justice and multiple states for an alleged crime spree stretching from Texas to Vermont. Prosecutors in New York, Tennessee, Kansas and his home state of Texas, where he's alleged to have violated parole, are all waiting their turns. He might not be a free man for a long, long, time.

But he's also alive. He will have his day in court, his guilt or innocence will be decided by a jury of his peers, and the victims of his alleged crimes will have the opportunity to see that justice is done.


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