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Editorial Advisory Board: ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?’

The Latin title of this editorial is usually translated, “Who will watch the watchers?” Sometimes the answer is the public.

According to law enforcement officials, Prince George’s County Councilwoman Karen Toles was pulled over by a police officer who had seen her county-issued Ford Edge veering across Capital Beltway traffic and then pursued it on its way to an exit at a high rate of speed. She got a ticket for making an unsafe lane change and a warning for excessive speed. No big deal, right?

Wrong. Although there was no equipment readily available to show reliably how fast Toles was moving, the camera in the officer’s cruiser has recorded the speed of the pursuit at more than 100 miles an hour on a road notorious for traffic craziness that makes the average combat zone look like an oasis of tranquility. Apparently zooming along at a clip very noticeably above the posted speed limit is a less serious offense in Prince George’s County (at least for some people) than improper lane changing.

It wasn’t until the seemingly mild treatment given to Ms. Toles hit the press and the airwaves that county higher-ups added a reckless driving charge.

We wonder whether the average citizen would have been blessed with the kind of leniency bestowed on Councilwoman Toles. Whatever happens in the case against her, the public has reason to wonder about special treatment.

Did the Councilwoman ask for a favor under color of her office? Was there an initial inquiry as to whether the driving judgment of the driver — manifestly poor, given her alleged speeding feat —affected by the presence of alcohol or drugs in her body? Why did this not result immediately in at least a citation for reckless driving, even if a precise calculation could not be made on the scene?

This is not to suggest that police officers should not have reasonable discretion in the enforcement of traffic laws. Normally, they should. But there are cases in which discretion does not come close to justifying the conduct of public officials.

Had the charges not eventually been upped by the police, this could have been a case for the State Prosecutor to investigate. After all, Maryland law gives that official the power and the duty to watch over all the other officials who are entrusted with the power to watch over citizens.

We hope that this case is a rare example of faulty initial judgment. We hope that police do not cover for public officials whose misbehavior on our roads endangers us all. Such conduct must not go under the radar, so to speak.

Editorial Advisory Board
James B. Astrachan, Chair
Laurel Albin
John Bainbridge
Neil Duke
Eric Easton
Arthur F. Fergenson
Elizabeth Kameen
Wesley D. Blakeslee
C. William Michaels
William Reynolds
Frederic Smalkin
Norman Smith
Mary Louise Preis
H. Mark Stichel
Christopher West