Trust busting

We’re not supposed to trust the government, or the police, or any of the public institutions to which we give power. Blind trust was never meant to be part of the deal, this social compact that created our government.

Yet Cosmo Garvin’s cover story this week (“O Brother, Where Art Thou?” on page 20) illustrates that law enforcement institutions these days deny the public and even affected family members the most basic information that would allow us to scrutinize their actions, instead essentially saying “Trust us.”

Our founding fathers understood all too well that power corrupts, so they set up a system in which none of our public institutions would enjoy absolute power, one in which those in positions of trust would be subjected to scrutiny from the public, the press and other branches of government.

That concept of openness in government was reinforced over the years with legislation like the Freedom of Information Act, Presidential Records Act and California Public Records Act. Yet somehow in recent years, police entities have gone against this grain, placing themselves beyond accountability to the public and demanding more blind trust than should be acceptable in an open, free society.

Who knows why they became so emboldened. Maybe it was the tough-on-crime era, when we began demanding security at any price. Perhaps it was pop culture’s influence and the glorification of brooding cops who break the rules to get the bad guys. Or maybe police learned the wrong lesson from their many public scandals: keeping secrets is easier than taking your medicine or reforming the system.

But an even more important question is why we continue to tolerate it.