Saturday, April 04, 2009
The last thing the SC Highway Patrol needs
The South Carolina Highway Patrol is filled with men and women who serve the public with honor in often a thankless job. The media does not write stories about the trooper who walks up alone in the middle of the night to the car with Florida plates. Instead, the media pounces on troopers who do wrong.
That is why the last thing the fine men and women who serve in the South Carolina Highway Patrol need in this budget cutting year is the saga of Trooper John D. McGaha, of Horry County. Trooper McGaha first came to the public's attention when he was pulled and ticketed by a fellow trooper for driving 131 MPH on Interstate 20. Supposedly, Trooper McGaha was to work the Carolina Cup in Camden and was late. Whatever the reason, McGaha got the ticket and a suspension from work, along with the supposed dishonor of being sent back to work in a marked patrol car.
The media was not done with McGaha. The State newspaper, and other media outlets pressed to look at McGaha's record. What they found was shocking. It appears that trooper McGaha had his own South Carolina Driver's license suspended from December 3, 2008 until February 20, 2009. According to published reports, the license suspension resulted in McGaha not paying taxes and registration fees on a personal vehicle. Whatever the reason, McGaha drove a highway patrol car and made arrests and ticketed drivers during the time his license was under suspension. If you or I would have been pulled over driving with a suspended license, we would have been cuffed and taken to jail.
Now, VUI does not judge those with suspended licenses. People forget to pay things and mistakes get the best of us all. However, it does give pause when someone charged with enforcing the very highway laws and regulations of the state drives a state owned patrol car and no one seems to notice. Think about it. For over two months, a state trooper operated a highway patrol car and made arrests without anyone knowing that his own driver's license was suspended.
Such a situation is an insult. It is an insult to the troopers who work bravely and honestly on an often thankless job. It is an insult to the people of South Carolina. It is just plain outrageous that in this age of instant information that the South Carolina Highway Patrol can not know immediately that one of its troopers has a suspended driver's license. It should not take a media request to find that information.
The South Carolina Highway Patrol is part of the South Carolina Department of Public Safety. It is within the purvey of the Governor. While it is understandable that Governor Sanford and those around him have been occupied with how to deal with federal stimulus money and things like that, perhaps they ought to consider something like constant instant license checks on state troopers. It seems common sense that there should be some way that the SC Highway Patrol could instantly know if the DMV suspended the driver's license of a state trooper.
The most unfortunate result of Trooper McGaha's offenses is how it lets the media hit the South Carolina Highway Patrol. The men and women out there working the roads deserve better from their leadership. McGaha and the guys from the videos of a year or so ago do not define the rank and file troopers. The vast majority of state troopers are brave and hard working.
Think about it a moment. It's 3AM on Interstate 95. A car with Florida plates is speeding. A trooper flashes his or her lights and pulls that car over. The trooper notices several people in the car pulled, yet walks up to it all alone. Is the car filled with drug runners who will do anything to get away or filled with Florida retirees speeding to watch a Yankee's baseball game? That trooper does not know. Yet, the trooper does his or her job.
For that South Carolina Highway Patrol trooper, VUI contends that the Governor and his cabinet should do more to insure that troopers who break the law do not soil the honor of the troopers who uphold the law. Letting a system continue that raises questions about the integrity of state troopers is the last thing the South Carolina Highway Patrol needs.