The instant explosive devices detonated at last week’s Boston Marathon, law enforcement’s top priority became clear: catch those responsible for the murder and maiming of innocents.
Local, state, and federal agencies focused on the first duty of law enforcement, but dramatic acts of violence that command the attention of the entire nation represent a tiny share of all violence. It’s on the days without high-profile carnage that law enforcement is more apt to lose focus, to allow countless other activities to compete for officers’ attention. Call it distracted policing, screwy priorities, or a corollary of Reynolds' Second Law, but the more law enforcement does, the less it does well.
Even with falling crime rates and the emergence of new crime-fighting technology, the FBI reports that more than half of our nation's violent crimes go unsolved and unpunished. Many thousands of criminals are literally getting away with murder: From 1980 to 2008, nearly 185,000 cases of homicide and non-negligent homicide went unsolved.
And catching violent criminals is what law enforcement is "good" at. Someone stole your television? You can probably forget about seeing it again, because 81 percent of property crimes go unsolved.
And yet distractions abound. From speed traps to seat belt checkpoints, officers’ actions often blur the lines between “peace keeping” and “revenue raising.” Those who helm law enforcement agencies are always looking for the next way to expand their purview (including keeping tabs on consensually obtained nude photos that are posted online without the written consent of the photos’ subjects).
And then there are the long-standing, commonplace distractions, like busting drug users, dealers, and prostitutes. Don’t cops have better things to do?
Take the Pittsburgh-area officer who apparently allowed a prostitute to service him while he was in the service of the law.
Homestead Police Department Detective Ronald DePellegrin claims his actions have been taken out of context, but the context we have comes from the criminal complaint written by DePellegrin himself. He writes that “Becky Dymon,” a woman he found online and the target of his sting operation, removed her clothes. The undercover detective disrobed, and explains what happened next: “Becky started to perform oral sex on me, when I said oh shit, the cops were coming.”
Carl Bailey of the Homestead Police Union argues that DePellegrin did nothing wrong. "In the course of officers doing undercover work, sometimes they have to do what they have to do to effectuate an arrest," says Bailey.
What dedication: If duty calls, Homestead's finest are willing to endure oral sex!
DePellegrin arrested Dymon when she tried to flee, but the officer will reportedly not be punished. And don’t be too quick to assume that official policy forbids officers from stripping naked while on the job. After a similar controversy erupted in 2010, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala declared, “While it’s not inappropriate for a police officer to take off his clothes in connection with a prostitution investigation, if an officer engages in a sexual act, this may constitute outrageous government conduct.” (Makes you wonder what would have to transpire for the DA to be certain that "outrageous government conduct" had taken place.)
But what’s more outrageous than the DA’s hedging or whether a detective engaged in sexual shenanigans, is what Homestead officers did while fully-clothed and with the blessings of their superiors. The criminal complaint does not specify how much time DePellegrin spent poking around the web for call girls, but based on what can be gleaned from the document, this particular sting operation occupied the time of at least five officers. Two of them, DePellegrin and his partner who accompanied him on the sting (but not in the fateful room!), devoted quite a lot of time to the operation (including stopping by Walgreens to pick up condoms and baby wipes requested by Dymon).
What if this sting was an anomaly not representative of how Homestead PD conducts itself? Even if the department is staffed by dedicated officers who spend much more time pursuing violent thugs than luring call girls, can they really say this prostitution sting was the best use of their time--any of their time? Their priorities seem all the more wayward given the fact that Homestead suffers from some of the highest violent crime rates in the Pittsburgh area, rates roughly three times the national average.
It’s hard to imagine Boston-area police officers trolling for hookers during their nationally televised manhunt, but all victims of violent crime deserve justice, whether or not their attacks attract attention from cable news. And even those who support prostitution stings must concede that before scarce resources are deployed for such a purpose, every murderer, rapist, robber, and shoplifter should be arrested first.
Video is just over two minutes.