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Expert: Faith Shaken In Local Law Enforcement

By Emily Cassulo
By ecassulo@wbbjtv.com

Since April 1, 7 Eyewitness News has reported on at least eight different West Tennessee officers accused of wrongdoing, and with that, experts said faith in those we count on to uphold the law can easily be shaken.

They said bad cases involving officers often give law enforcement a bad name, even though most are just doing their jobs.

Just last week, a Jackson police officer was accused of rendezvousing with a woman in a cemetery, and over the weekend a former sheriff was arrested, accused of shooting at his wife.

Residents said they have had enough.

"Don't know who to trust, you know, 'cause the police is shooting at their wife," Jackson resident Brenda Akines said.

Just last year, the Madison County Sheriff's Department said it disciplined 35 of its 200 officers. And Jackson police disciplined 21 of their 140 patrol officers.

That may not seem like a lot, but experts said that is what the public remembers.

"What they know about law enforcement is what they see on television or in the movies, or on the rare occasion where they have personal contact, and when people have personal contact with law enforcement, it's usually not in a good situation," said Dr. Brian Donavant, assistant professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Tennessee-Martin.

Dr. Donavant said law enforcement is considered high profile. They are always in the public eye, and people more often remember the bad over the good.

"Anytime that you have a situation where you're holding the public accountable for their actions, you're going to come under very intense scrutiny," he said.

And according to Donavant, we are hearing about these cases more often, thanks, in part, to technology like smart phones and social media.

"Everywhere you go, there is some type of recording device, whether it's audio or video, and so it becomes much much easier for the public to see these types of incidents," Donavant said.

But residents said that is no excuse.

"We know they're human, too, and they have bad days and they're going to make mistakes, and things like we do, but they need to stop and think before they make those mistakes, and think about what their job is," Jackson resident Jacqueline Cobb said.

Donavant also said today law enforcement administrators are being more proactive when it comes to a breach of ethics by officers, making sure the public perceives a very professional image of them.

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