NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

April 17, 2014

Seabrook should widen probe of police incident

We applaud Seabrook officials for deciding to bring in an impartial company to conduct the internal review of the police department in light of the allegations of police brutality that surround the arrest of local resident Michael Bergeron Jr.

Using a reputable, independent firm to probe the Nov. 11, 2009, incident will alleviate any semblance of a coverup that could have overshadowed the outcome if the police department had investigated itself.

But the investigation should delve deeper into the controversy than simply what should happen to the officers involved and if they broke Seabrook Police Department guidelines during Bergeron’s arrest.

The incident, as depicted in the police department’s own video footage posted on YouTube in January, is shocking. The images on the tape — which shows an officer throwing a prisoner against the wall, and another officer smiling up into the camera after spraying Bergeron with pepper spray while he was already on the floor — has done tremendous damage to the police department’s reputation.

The incident is a starting point for questions regarding the Seabrook police.

Questions need to be answered concerning why, as they claim, none of the departmental leaders and the shift commander knew anything about the incident prior to the video’s release in January. Bergeron’s lawyer requested a copy of the tape; therefore, someone had to view the footage and prepare a copy to comply with his attorney’s request.

Why such behavior wasn’t seen as problematic by whomever prepared the copy and shared with those in command is a question that must be answered.

It seems that Seabrook police could have been proactive in dealing with the fallout from the video; instead, they have been swept up in it.

The entire incident is more than just three minutes of bad judgment by two veteran officers. It raises questions as to whether the behavior depicted is indicative of an underlying culture in the department that would lead those officers to believe that such behavior is acceptable.

The public should feel assured that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated in a police department. That will require town officials to dig deeper than the video. We hope that Seabrook officials recognize this and start the process now.

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