Thursday, September 21, 2000

Enquirer editorial

Judges are also guilty in probation fiasco

        Hamilton County's judges should not be surprised that their orders are routinely ignored by probation officers. The chief they foolishly ran out of office last month tried to tell them what was going on.

        Stories in the Enquirer this week reported that mandatory drug tests have not been done in hundreds of cases, allowing drug offenders to duck the most obvious and important condition of their probation.

        But there may be worse news yet to come. Common Pleas Judge Steven Martin, outraged to learn some of his orders had not been followed, is personally going through the records on 280 cases in which he issued such orders. After looking at about one fourth of them, he found only one probation officer who did everything he was supposed to do. The drug tests were not the only orders being ignored, Judge Martin said. Requirements of employment, community service and restitution where ignored by probation officers.

        Such disgraceful performance cannot be tolerated, and the judges share some of the blame for it. For generations they have been featherbedding the probation department with friends and relations who think a heavy workload means checking in with the office once a day.

        Eighteen months ago, retired Cincinnati Police Chief Michael Snowden was hired to run the department. His attempts to instill professionalism and accountability were met with a mutiny by employees, who ran to the judges. Rather than stand behind the chief, most judges fell back on their old habits of patronage and kept silent or told him to back off. When Mr. Snowden refused, they made his life so miserable that he quit.

        Drug testing was only one of the deficiencies Mr. Snowden tried to reform. When he tried to discipline one officer for not doing a test, he found that such orders were ignored by many in the department, because they didn't like handling urine samples. So the county spent $100,000 to hire a company to take the specimens.

        The next excuse was that they don't have time to schedule drug tests. That's the same alibi they gave when Mr. Snowden discovered many weren't seeing their clients regularly. But a $600,000 study found that 20 percent of the probation officers' time is unaccounted for.

        With the exception of Judge Martin and a few others, most of the judges have been unwilling to clean up the mess in probation. That's irresponsible. The public has a right to expect vigilant monitoring, not lame excuses.

        A complete audit of the department should be done, and any officers who have ignored orders should be suspended or fired. A new chief of probation should be hired — qualified by professionalism, not patronage.

Drug test probe expands
- Enquirer editorial

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