There are rights and then there’s what is right.
Members of the Lakewood Police Guild are having trouble distinguishing between the two.
The union and its members have the legal right to campaign for casino gambling in Lakewood. Members fear that budget cuts that may – or may not – result from a ban on commercial casinos will hurt police funding.
But someone should have walked the membership through the history of gambling and police corruption in the state of Washington.
Perhaps then, they would have recognized just how lousy it looks for members to meet at a casino, put on black T-shirts labeled Lakewood Police Guild and head out to campaign for gambling.
They might recognize the terrible judgment it was for the very men and women who enforce criminal laws in casinos to join in partnership with the proprietors of the city’s four casinos.
What they did raises the specter of the bad old days. It was a police gambling scandal in 1952 that led Tacoma to change to a council-manager form of government. An investigation into so-called vigilante cops who decided to enforce gambling laws on selected illegal operations exposed a tolerance policy in which cops took payoffs to stay out of gambling clubs unless called.
It was a police gambling scandal in 1971 in Seattle that led to the state law legalizing some gambling for charities and making clear that for-profit commercial gambling was illegal. Eventually 54 public officials including police officers were indicted for accepting payoffs to look the other way.
The scandals surrounded illegal gambling. But as the state was passing its first big gambling law, lawmakers clearly didn’t trust local officials to regulate legal gambling either. While the locals could enforce local laws – and could ban gambling outright – only the state would pick winners and losers, regulate gambling and enforce the rules.
This is how then-King County Sheriff Larry Waldt explained it in 1971: “There is a hazard that cannot be ignored and that is the ever-present opportunity for corrupting local officials and law enforcement officers who would be responsible for the licensing, supervision and enforcement of so-called legalized gambling.”
So there is clearly a lot of history involving cops and gambling, little of it good. As such there should be sensitivity to the subject, not the opposite.
Yet these are the same folks who are trying to assure Lakewood voters that they have nothing to fear from continued casino gambling. Guild president Brian Wurts wrote in a News Tribune column that his fellow officers don’t see much-casino related crime. And the revenue from casinos funds law enforcement and other services.
“We didn’t surrender our Constitutional rights when we got a badge,” Wurts said Monday. “We have a right to assist with something that will decimate the city and cut officer positions.”
City Manager Andrew Neiditz says he can’t determine what cops do legally on their own time.
“If the Lakewood Independent Police Guild takes a position, that’s their right,” he said. “I’m not suggesting it looks good for the city. But the city manager doesn’t have the authority to tell city employees what they can do on a Saturday.”
The No on Prop. 1 campaign calls itself a “Business Community Partnership,” which is technically true. All of the $60,000 raised comes from the four casino companies that would be forced to close if it passes, and the “community” is the cops.
The other side has raised less than $12,000 from 73 citizens. None has given more than $300.
Last week, when proponents saw that their signs were disappearing, often to be replaced with anti-Prop. 1 ads, they filed a complaint to the Lakewood Police Department. That shows a lot of faith, perhaps undeserved, that the department can be fair when many of its officers are foot soldiers for the pro-casino side of the debate.
Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657