North Brunswick Police Chief Carmen Canastra’s suspension of five township patrolmen for releasing information to the public without his clearance is a sadly ill-advised action
The patrolmen, all elected officers of the local Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, are being disciplined for writing a Letter to the Editor of this newspaper in which they called for more policemen to control a growing local drug problem. In their letter, the patrolmen declared that since only three officers constitute the juvenile, detective and narcotics bureaus the men are, understandably, unable to devote enough time to the narcotics problem.
.Canastra, charging violation of section 17 of the departmental “orders of the day,” which forbids
_ release of information without—his clearance, -says— the information presented in the letter—specifically that about the manpower situation—could serve the interests of criminals.
If the circumstances sound familiar, it is because they closely parallel—on an admittedly lower level—the circumstances involved in the case of the government, The New York Times, et al and the Pentagon Papers. In expressing their views, the patrolmen were certainly within their rights as citizens and as officers of the PBA. Section 17 of the departmental “orders of the day” has been routinely unenforced in other instances of information release, and the assertion that the information so released might benefit criminals is dubious at best.
The police chief’s suspension of the policemen is clearly uncalled for and in conflict with the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of information.
That is bad enough, but in taking the action, the chief also injures police morale and does little to reassure the citizens of North Brunswick that his first priority is law enforcement, not the enforcement of departmental rules.