The growing litany of misconduct allegations against members of the Jefferson County Sheriffs Department disparages the entire department and erodes public confidence in the agency.
Mark Kellogg, a 20-year veteran of the department, last week became the fifth member to be accused of misbehavior when criminal assault charges were lodged against him following a fight at an Adams Center tavern. Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Burns opted not to suspend the corrections officer since his conduct was unrelated to the jail. However, it leaves Mr. Kellogg in the awkward position of overseeing other accused criminals incarcerated while they await disposition of their cases or serve out sentences, perhaps for the same crime alleged against Mr. Kellogg.
The department has been without a working undersheriff since Andrew R. Neff was suspended with pay in late October following allegations he used his county-issued cellphone to send lewd photos of himself to a woman. Deputy James Randall Jr. also remains on suspension for having a relationship with a woman who has a criminal record, a violation of department rules.
However, Detective Stephen C. Cote and Deputy Adam B. Hallett continue to perform their duties while suspected of misbehavior. A female deputy in the department has accused Mr. Cote of tricking her into posing for nude photographs. The allegations against Mr. Hallett are unknown.
As an elected official, Sheriff Burns frequently has asserted his independence from oversight by county lawmakers, maintaining they have limited power over his department. As such, the initial and primary responsibility for putting his department in order rests with Sheriff Burns.
It is incumbent on the sheriff to reform his leadership team and to make sure this disreputable atmosphere is cleared up. It discredits the entire department. The reputation of upstanding officers and deputies is tainted in a department that cannot be trusted to monitor the conduct of its own members. County residents need to have confidence that the men and women responding to their complaints and enforcing the laws are being held to strict standards.
Sheriff Burns owes it to his constituents to initiate a thorough, transparent self-assessment of his department. If not, there are alternatives. The state Commission of Investigation has broad authority to investigate the conduct of public officers and mismanagement in state and local government, as it did several years ago with the city of Watertown Police Department.
Sheriff Burns has to step up and implement corrective measures, if he does not want to cede responsibility to a third party. Sheriff Burns should publicly impose a plan of restructuring within two months, or the county Legislature should petition the governor to call in the Commission of Investigation.