In a phrase, we’re not in Mayberry anymore.

All three city police departments in western Washington County are currently dealing with major changes and substantial challenges, from departing chiefs and unfinished investigations to concerns over pay inequities.

Two chiefs have left in the last month, one (in Cornelius) in the midst of an internal investigation; the other (in Hillsboro) amid questions about his commitment to community policing.

An uptick in graffiti and a recent gang-related stabbing have also added to the departments’ collective mental, physical and emotional burden, as has lingering fallout from a domestic disturbance at a former Hillsboro policeman’s home in Forest Grove in January — which turned into an ugly scene with multiple guns going off but during which (thankfully) no one was killed.

In short, It’s not an easy time to be a cop — regardless of rank.

In Forest Grove, Chief Janie Schutz has had to face a plethora of problems since taking the reins in October. That same month, one of her captains, Aaron Ashbaugh, became ensnared in a Cornelius police-corruption investigation for deleting a paragraph in an internal memo relating to former Cornelius Chief Paul Rubenstein.

A Multnomah County district attorney who reviewed the files questioned Ashbaugh’s actions (and his explanation) but decided they didn’t rise to the level of official misconduct. With the air cleared, Ashbaugh, who had been on extended leave, retired last month.

Shutz and her public information officer, Capt. Mike Herb, have performed admirably while short-handed and under intense pressure, being as transparent as they could in both the Ashbaugh investigation and the January shooting. They oversee a department that is strained, to be sure, but not in any crisis.

In Cornelius, however, we’re not so sure.

That’s not a knock against Interim Chief Ken Summers. Rather, it’s our concern over the city’s intent (signaled this week in response to a News-Times public records request) to keep the details surrounding Rubenstein’s departure a secret.

We understand why city officials would like to sweep this mess under the rug. A strange series of events has beset the police agency since November, when Rubenstein was placed on paid leave after he was named in a complaint brought by four officers. The 15-page complaint, sent to the city council, accused Rubenstein and former Assistant Chief Joe Noffsinger of corruption, misconduct and creating a hostile work environment.

City Manager Rob Drake demoted Noffsinger to lieutenant and eliminated his former position. Rubenstein retired and was given a $10,000 severance from the city, even though a final report on the investigation has not yet been released and the former chief hasn’t been officially cleared of or found guilty of any wrongdoing.

Summers, who stepped in when Rubenstein went on leave, has had a calming effect and is moving the department forward. But in this case, it's also important to look back.

If the officers are right, and there was a culture of corruption in the Cornelius cop shop, the public should know. If the officers are misrepresenting the facts, the public also has a right to know. By shooting down the News-Times’ request for documents this week, the city has added one more problem to its crowded agenda: a fight over records the public has the right to see.

That said, we urge readers to keep things in perspective.

For while we are a far cry from the fictional one-traffic-light town Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife policed during prime time, our police departments are sill very much a part of our communities.

The officers and administrators who have sworn to protect and serve us deserve some reciprocal care at this moment in time.

If you encounter an officer on the street, say thank you and wish him or her a good day. If you’re pulled over in traffic, keep a cool head.

Most of all, keep your eyes and ears open for problems, whether it’s graffiti tagging that appears overnight or concern for an elderly neighbor you haven’t seen in a day or two. Our police agencies can use a little help and collaboration right now.

As Chief Schutz suggested a few weeks back, when officers reach out, they need to grasp a hand reaching back.

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