Who guards the guardians?

Law enforcement should strive to avoid excessive force

It’s not fair to condemn an entire police department for the actions of one rogue officer, but it’s not fair to absolve it, either.

Agencies, particularly law enforcement, bear responsibility and accountability for those in their employ.

So it shouldn’t have taken an Augusta Chronicle investigation into the actions of Georgia Regents University cop Wesley Martin to get the attention of his supervisors or to elicit something resembling concern from the university. The fact that it did take such an investigation is another indication of how little regard university administrators have for the community.

An analysis of three years’ worth of GRU reports shows Martin used force during encounters nearly three times as often as his colleagues, and used his stun gun more than twice as often. In a profession in which officers can go months, or years, without drawing their stun guns, Martin used his to threaten or stun people 19 times.

It was Martin’s repeated stunning of motorist Frederick Gibbons during a traffic stop in 2012 that prompted the Chronicle investigation. Gibbons was acquitted of charges after a 2013 trial in which Martin admitted to lying about his version of the events.

That probably should have ended his employment with the department, but it didn’t.

He’s since been involved in two incidents in which he has drawn his service pistol, most recently during a noise-complaint call at University Village apartments, where he fired 10 shots at a student attempting to drive away from the complex. Charges in that case have not been filed.

Martin was placed on leave for a week and reassigned to an administrative post, presumably where there is little cause to reach for a weapon.

University President Ricardo Azziz issued a statement to GRU students, faculty and staff earlier this week reassuring them he is “committed to ensuring that encounters involving our Public Safety officers are conducted with professionalism and fairness to everyone.”

That’s a tepid response considering the current strained relationship between the community and the university. But it’s better than doing nothing, which apparently is what the university has done regarding Officer Martin’s actions to date.

All it takes is one aberrant officer to make the rest of a law enforcement department look bad. GRU’s Public Safety Division owes it to the people it serves and protects to make sure that its respected officers don’t rely too heavily – or eagerly – on force to perform their duties.

Azziz responds to investigation into GRU officers
Reports show weapons use among Georgia Regents University Department of Public Safety's officers

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