Corrupting The Public’s Trust

Larry Price
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Wednesday - May 31, 2006
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It appears to be open season, again, on tainting the public’s perception of individuals who work for state and city government.

In the first five months of this year, the FBI’s Honolulu office has already investigated nearly as many allegations of public corruption as it does normally in a whole year. The FBI also admitted that, “While authorities say the number of probes here is not high compared to other jurisdictions, observers say that public perception and faith in government suffers by the mere appearance of impropriety.”

The federal government defines public corruption as any instance in which a public official uses his or her position or office for personal, financial or material gain.

It is actually a form of corruption to use investigative powers to spoil the reputations of all the apples in the barrel. It is absurd to insinuate that the behavior of one police officer is typical of all police officers. It is equally absurd to insinuate that because several bribed City & County liquor inspectors showed weakness in performing their duties that all are corrupt.


Because it is in vogue to criticize public servants without any regard for the fact they are innocent until proven guilty, it opens the door for those who would like to believe that the indictments indicate a more rampant corruption problem.

So we have a total of five Honolulu police officers, the head of security at Aloha Stadium, a liquor inspector and a FBI secretary indicted this year for their alleged roles in several corruption and drug cases. In almost the same breath, the authorities say the number of public corruption cases in Hawaii is not higher than would be expected for a jurisdiction this size, and some smaller jurisdictions have more cases.

From 1995 to 2004 there were 55 public corruption convictions in Hawaii. By comparison, during the same time frame, there were 124 conviction on the small island of Guam. The FBI is also willing to admit that in a big city like Honolulu, you’re bound to have problems.

The possible truth is that public corruption is the FBI’s No. 1 criminal priority. It is constantly striving to develop public corruption cases in the public sector. Even Honolulu Police Chief Boise Correa admitted his department actively seeks out officers who betray the public trust. He also pointed out that, “Nothing deteriorates public trust more than public corruptions.”

There is little question that the public’s trust is vital. It is also true that it does not serve the public’s best interest to make them think that all public workers are easy targets for corruption and temptation for personal gain. It’s just not fair to the public or public workers to give them the impression designed to make one’s department seem like they are laboring on an island of self-righteousness surrounded by sharks in an angry sea of corruption. Rest assured, that is not the case. Authorities admit that public corruption in Hawaii is really not as bad as it seems.


A real problem with these kinds of investigations is they take forever to end in indictments, jury trials and adjudication. The public is fed the corruption story, which they love to read about because it validates deeply held suspicions. These types of stories have no continuity, and in many cases when the accused are found innocent of the charges, their lives and reputations are ruined.

If we keep it up, no one will have any desire to be a public servant.

These investigations should exhibit an abundance of caution to ensure they don’t contaminate the public’s confidence in those who choose to dedicate their lives to public service.

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