COMMENTARY: Hate Groups Have No Place In Law Enforcement…Or Do They?

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Really? This story sounds shady at best. Consider this: The situation involving Borst and Hunnewell marks the second time in five years that Klansmen have been found in the Fruitland Park Police Department. In 2009, Officer James Elkins resigned after photographs showed him wearing in a white robe and hood, and he later admitted he was a leader of the local KKK.

“We cannot nor will we tolerate any philosophy that is inherently morally corrupt or one that espouses bigotry or any intolerance aimed at any groups or individuals because of their race, religion, ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation,” City Manager Gary La Venia told reporters. “This city is diverse, tolerant, it’s a welcoming community.”

Given the disturbing pattern in the Fruitland Park Police Department, how many other closet KKK members are serving as police officers in departments down South – and across the country? According to The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups and hate crimes, there are currently 939 known hate groups operating across the country, including neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, border vigilantes and others. There are 58 hate groups in Florida alone, which is second in the nation behind California with 77.

Since 2000, according to The Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups has increased by 56 percent. The surge has been fueled by anger and fear over the nation’s ailing economy, an influx of non-white immigrants, and the diminishing white majority, as symbolized by the election of President Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president.

Florida Chief Deputy State Attorney Ric Ridgway told the Orlando Sentinel that the report contained “a lot of fairly substantial evidence that tends to support” Borst’s and Hunnewell’s Klan membership. But he added that it’s not illegal to belong to the KKK “even if you are the deputy chief.”

“It’s not a crime to hate people. It may be despicable, it may be immoral, but it’s not a crime,” he said.

At least one top cop in Fruitland Park, however, is playing down the controversy. “Since I’ve come here, I’ve been very, very hardcore and very strict on bringing this from the old culture into a new professional culture,” Police Chief Terry Isaacs told The Southern Poverty Law Center. “I’ve set strict guidelines as far as our ethics go, diversity training. I don’t allow any joking, any comments. I’m very strict on that. I was somewhat shocked. I did not expect that in 2014… We have not had a racial complaint since I’ve been here.”

Maybe not. But it’s hard to believe that a police chief who oversees a 12-man police department in a tiny town of 5,000 residents didn’t know that two of his officers were linked to the KKK.

Isaacs turned a blind eye — or he has terrible investigative skills.

In any case, it’s time to rid the nation’s police departments of racism, whether it comes wearing a hood and robe…or not.

What do you think?

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