- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



It’s starting to look like Gov. Tom Wolf did the right thing when he went outside the ranks of the Pennsylvania state troopers in picking someone to run the law enforcement agency.

Current and retired troopers are waging a bitter campaign against Wolf’s nominee, Marcus Brown. Their reaction suggests the force harbors a clubby, insular element with the attitude that “we’re the ones who run this show, not you.” Left unchallenged, that kind of attitude can easily lead to abusive behavior by those whom society entrusts to use deadly force.

Is Brown the best possible candidate to bring that fresh, outsiders’ perspective to the troopers? That remains to be seen.

Though he grew up in Pennsylvania, attending high school here and graduating from Penn State, some legitimate concerns have been raised from Brown’s time in Maryland, where he spent most of his law enforcement career.

What’s going on says a lot more about the culture within the trooper ranks than it does about Marcus Brown.

Those questions don’t automatically disqualify him, nor does he deserve a free pass just because he is Gov. Wolf’s choice. What Brown deserves is a fair chance, in Senate hearings, to address the legitimate concerns expressed so far.

What he does not deserve is the kind of often anonymous sniping waged by those upset at him for the bogus “offense” of deciding to wear the Pennsylvania state trooper uniform. “He didn’t earn it” is his critics’ refrain.

The latest example comes from Hampden Township Police Chief Steve Junkin. A retired Pennsylvania State trooper captain, Junkin went onto an anti-Brown Facebook page and posted a message that warned Brown, “I too will do everything in my power to see that you don’t wear the uniform of a PSP Trooper.”

Junkin’s post also referred to uniformed troopers as “soldiers of the law” - evidence of a militaristic attitude that can easily lead to excessive use of force by civilian police officers. Hampden Township commissioners might want to ask themselves what sort of leader they’ve chosen for their police department.

In his Facebook post, Junkin asserted that the right to wear the trooper uniform is “not bestowed by gubernatorial edict but earned by being the best.”

That remark suggests there’s a superiority complex at work in the troopers’ ranks - one that can easily feed the attitude that “Troopers can do no wrong.”

Retired troopers like Junkin don’t run the state troopers. Neither do the current officers. The duly elected governor of Pennsylvania is in charge, and he gets to pick who runs the state troopers, subject to veto by the state Senate. That’s not an ‘edict,’ that’s what Pennsylvania’s Constitution provides.

When a symbolic matter of such little consequence stirs such vituperation toward the would-be leader of the troopers, it says a lot more about the culture within the trooper ranks than it does about Marcus Brown.

Wolf is right to challenge those parochial, self-righteous attitudes by bringing outside leadership to the Pennsylvania state troopers.




Gov. Wolf’s choice to head up the state police, Col. Marcus Brown, said he “acted like a father” when he removed signs critical of him near his kids’ bus stop.

“The safety of my children is my highest priority,” said Brown, in response to a controversy now swirling around his decision to allegedly take what did not belong to him. In fact, the 25-year law enforcement veteran could face misdemeanor charges if the Cumberland County district attorney so decides.

But while it remains unclear whether Brown will face criminal charges, it seems clear in our view that Brown acted out of spite. The same could be said of Brown’s critics within the state police, which Brown now oversees on an interim basis while the state Senate weighs his candidacy for the job on a permanent basis. We suspect Brown did not increase his chances of approval with what some folks might consider a bristling overreaction that, in addition to concerns about professional comportment and possible criminality, also raises free speech issues.

That said, we get that nobody wants to be humiliated in front of their own children. Unfortunately, that possibility comes with the territory when one covets a high-profile public position.

The messages on the signs - “Marcus Brown didn’t earn it!” and “Marcus Brown don’t wear it!” - are related to Brown’s decision to don a Pennsylvania State Police uniform even though he did not come up through the ranks. It’s something the man who preceded Brown chose not to do. A former FBI investigator, not a career state cop, ex-Commissioner Frank Noonan wore a business suit at the office.

This apparently made the outsider more acceptable to a force accustomed to its commissioner rising through the ranks. And it is a formidable force. With 6,000 troopers and civilian employees, the Pennsylvania State Police is among the largest police forces in the nation, one commanding a billion-dollar annual budget. So whoever is put in charge will have a much greater chance of success if he garners the rank-and- file’s respect.

To that point, Brown is former superintendent of the Maryland State Police, having spent most of his law enforcement career in the Baltimore Police Department. So he is no stranger to the legal community or Pennsylvania. Brown is a Penn State graduate, and in addition to his background in law enforcement, holds a law degree from the University of Baltimore.

Bottom line: The guy has great credentials. What he doesn’t seem to have is great judgment. His alleged over-the-top swiping of signs that might have been on private property raises questions about mindset and demeanor at a time when police actions and attitudes are under scrutiny all across the nation. And his strained defense, that he was protecting his children, raises even more questions about judgment.

Brown said he “acted like a father.” We think he acted out of spite, a matter senators must now weigh against Brown’s strong professional and educational record. Call his actions warning signs.

- Bucks County Courier Times



Pennsylvania has entered into a public-private partnership to replace its decrepit bridges.

The Department of Transportation said that Plenary Walsh Keystone Partners will begin work in May to replace more than 500 spans in deplorable condition at a cost of $900 million.

The advantage is that the contractor will use one basic design for bridges of similar size, saving taxpayers the added cost of engineering fees for each bridge. Plenary Walsh must complete work on 558 bridges in the next three years, and then will be responsible for maintaining the spans for another 25 years.

The drawback, according to Ellen Dannin, a former Penn State Law professor, could be cost over-runs and legal squabbles if Plenary Walsh does not live up to its promises in the next three decades.

That’s why we weren’t sold on the partnership when Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, pitched it in 2011.

PennDOT will pay the engineering group $65 million a year for 28 years, plus another $240 million in other payments, for a total outlay of $2 billion.

The funds are courtesy of Act 89, which was signed into law in 2013. The legislation put Keystone State motorists on the hook for increases in the wholesale gas tax and higher fees for vehicle registrations and specialized license plates.

Also, some traffic fines have jumped significantly.

The fees were restructured in order to raise $2.3 billion a year by 2018 to help fund the state’s crumbling highway and bridge system.

We hope that the new plan provides enough funds for the work and that the Legislature does not have to revisit Act 89 in the future.

One bright spot in the entire outline is that 11 subcontractors from across the state will be involved in the undertaking.

Wozniak, of course, defended the partnership.

“PennDOT is being fiducially responsible,” he said.

Rich Kirkpatrick, PennDOT press secretary, also touted the project.

“The construction cost savings from bundling and building them now outweigh the long-term interest costs,” he said. “And we get the bridges replaced now instead of, in some cases, decades from now.”

Call us skeptical.

- The (Johnstown) Tribune-Democrat



If the proposal Republican Sen. Pat Toomey introduced last week sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same one he pitched last year.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, aims to keep sexual predators away from school children by stepping up background checks and prohibiting schools from hiring anyone convicted of violent or sexual crimes. It also forbids school districts from recommending suspected abusers for positions in other states.

“I can’t believe this is even controversial,” said Mr. Toomey, still incredulous that last year’s measure never made it out of committee, although the House approved its version unanimously. His frustration is warranted, as is the bipartisan plan, which codifies common-sense practices that should have been law years ago.

Senators who stonewalled the 2014 bill said Congress shouldn’t act as a school board and states already have their own rules about background checks. That’s precisely the problem. States vary wildly in what checks they require, and they don’t always communicate with each other. Pennsylvania does it right, requiring three checks (Department of Human Services, state police and FBI) every 36 months, for both regular and contract employees. But 12 states don’t require background checks on contract employees at all.

Toomey, the father of three, notes that while most teachers and other school employees are honorable, the abuse of children in school settings is “not an isolated event.” In 2014, 459 school workers were arrested in the United States for sexual misconduct, 26 of them in Pennsylvania.

The new measures might not have prevented all those abuses, but they might have saved Jeremy Bell. He was the 12-year-old West Virginia boy who was raped and killed in 1997 by his principal, a former Pennsylvania teacher who had been suspected of abusing boys in Delaware County, but was still able to get a job one state away.

Motivated by that tragedy and the potential for others, Toomey vows to keep pushing, saying, “We’re going to vote on this, one way or the other.” Now attached to a controversial sex-trafficking bill, it may fail again, but Toomey is right to keep trying.



Nearly two years ago, a Philly.com report revealed an alarming and puzzling trend: Philadelphia residents had committed fewer violent crimes and fewer assaults on police in 2012 than in the previous year, but the police had shot many more Philadelphians. A subsequent federal review underscores the cause for alarm but leaves less occasion for puzzlement.

The Department of Justice report released this week found that the city’s officers are not consistently trained or equipped for alternatives to deadly force, nor are they reliably subjected to thorough investigations and oversight when they do fire their weapons. That makes it less surprising that police are involved in about one shooting a week and that many Philadelphians are reflexively suspicious of officers’ use of force.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey rightly requested the independent review in response to the rising number of shootings, and he and Mayor Nutter seem to be taking its recommendations as seriously as they should given the city’s long history of police corruption and violence.

The DOJ team found a relatively constant incidence of shootings over seven years, disproportionately affecting minorities and involving suspects with guns only a little more than half the time. Annual shootings involving officers fluctuated between 42 and 62 a year from 2007 through 2013, averaging 52 a year. Ninety percent of those shot by police were black or Latino, and 56 percent had firearms.

The report’s findings on training and equipment show the department can do better by its officers as well as the public. Police aren’t uniformly equipped with nonlethal weapons such as Tasers and pepper spray, for example. They are insufficiently trained in de-escalating conflicts, perceiving threats, and avoiding bias, the report found. And the department’s use-of-force policies need to be clarified and more regularly taught to officers.

The DOJ also found that internal reviews of police shootings are inconsistent and often ineffective. Meanwhile, the department has unacceptably stonewalled external oversight by the Police Advisory Commission, while it’s been without an integrity officer, another civilian overseer, since 2005.

The DOJ’s findings have to be taken in the context of a city sadly beset by violence, with more than 5,000 gun crimes reported last year and most shootings by officers occurring in high-crime neighborhoods. However, there is little excuse for insufficient oversight, training, and tactics to minimize deadly force. The Police Department has a difficult, dangerous job, but taking pains to avoid adding to the bloodshed is an important part of that job.

- The Philadelphia Inquirer.



Successive state administrations and state legislators eagerly have embraced the natural gas industry while contending that the government has well-regulated the enterprise in the public interest.

Unfortunately, as the industry matures, it continues to demonstrate the many ways in which the state government continues to play catch-up.

It is extraordinary, for example, that the state government still is debating the merits of an extraction tax that simply is part of the drill everywhere else in the United States that gas is drilled.

But that is one of the older arguments. Recently a panel discussion at Wilkes University revealed that the state has yet to come up with a definitive regulatory regiment for one of the most fundamental aspects of the thriving gas industry - pipeline transmission.

John Quigley, the new secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, announced a pipeline task force to consider the various issues the transmission lines present, nearly a decade after the industry began laying them.

And the Legislature passed the Pipeline Act, outlining standards, only in 2011.

Issues include erosion control, wetland protections and property rights.

It’s apparent that as the industry matures, the only thing Pennsylvanians can count on is that the public interest in the safe operation of the industry is a work in progress.

- The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens’ Voice.



Lancaster County has the youngest population per capita in Pennsylvania.

Lancaster city has one of the highest rates of children with elevated blood lead levels in the state.

And yet only 7 percent of children in this county were tested for lead exposure in 2013.

Two steps would go a long way toward protecting our children, and a third has a good chance of helping in that effort:

- Adopting ordinances in our municipalities requiring property owners to address issues that can expose children to lead. Of the county’s 60 municipalities, only the City of Lancaster has such an ordinance.

- Be aware, particularly if you live in a home built before 1978, of how to check for lead, when to have your children tested and what to do to protect your children from the serious and irreversible dangers of lead exposure.

- Finally, a Lancaster County public health department could help to get more children tested for exposure to lead.

A health department also could help the county in other ways, including: securing federal grants available only to qualified health departments, such as Healthy Homes funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development; helping municipalities draft effective ordinances to identify and abate lead problems in homes; and assisting in boosting the rate of childhood vaccinations, both by getting the word out to parents regarding the value of vaccines against measles and other serious diseases and by coordinating flu shots in cases such as the H1N1 swine flu outbreak of 2010-11.

While Lancaster city children have the highest known lead levels, it is not the only place in the county where children are at risk. Other Lancaster County towns have a lot of homes built before 1978, including Christiana (97 percent) and Marietta (94 percent).

Municipalities should adopt enforceable ordinances to get older homes with children tested and any elevated lead levels corrected.

The Lancaster County Lead Coalition, formed by the countywide Partnership for Public Health and Lancaster General Health’s Center for Wellness, is partnering with the University of Pennsylvania to tackle the lead issue here. They are hoping to get a $400,000 annual grant - $2 million over five years - from the National Institutes of Health, to raise awareness about the dangers of lead poisoning, and to get more children tested.

If you think your children have been exposed to lead - if you live in an older home that may have lead-lined pipes or lead paint - talk to your child’s pediatrician.

The Environmental Protection Agency also recommends a paint inspection and a risk assessment (which includes checks, for peeling paint and lead dust), prior to signing a lease on an apartment or purchasing a home if possible, for anyone with a child and an older home.

So, join the fight for our children against lead. Test that pre-1978 home if you own or live in one. Urge your municipality to adopt an ordinance requiring property owners to address the problem. And ask candidates for county commissioner in this year’s election to consider adding a countywide health department to coordinate this and other important public health efforts.


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