What now, Linda Edwards

Local comment
The Sentinel-Record 1-15-1977

Garland County Sheriff Leon Barlow this past week jumped into the Linda Edwards mystery with both feet and landed with one foot squarely on the back of city police.

Whatever his motivation in writing the Civil Service Commission and then to Gov. David Pryor and finally in talking for publication about the case, he accomplished several dramatic things.

First, he certainly alienated city police. It will be a massive job for anyone who is interested in doing it, to ever get the two law enforcement agencies to work well together. This is a great loss for the county. He said there was little cooperation at the time of the letter and then ensured that there would be none afterwards.

He also revved up public interest in the case, an interest which has consistently been intense. By so doing, he applied the pressure of public opinion to the Civil Service Commission, to Mayor Tom Ellsworth, to Chief of Police Grover Douglas and to the officer in question.

Sadly, he also greatly lessened public trust in city police. Rumors that have rumbled about town since the woman’s disappearance have left police with a serious credibility gap which widened appreciably when he opened his mouth.

Since he named a specific police officer in letters and would have named him publicly if asked, he also affected a human being who may or may not be guilty of a crime.

As a professional lawman, he did some curious things.

The fact remains that Linda Edwards could very well be alive.

Hopefully, she is living and will reappear and clear up the controversy once and for all.

What should be the result of the letter?

The most important thing that could result would be the formation of a committee or commission that would be charged with drawing up plans for cooperation between city police and the Sheriff’s Office. There is no realistic reason why all local residents should not have the best possible protection by law enforcement officials. Specific steps should be taken immediately to guarantee this. Linda Edwards is important, but so are all the other 60,000 county residents.

The allegations made in the letter should also be dealt with by the Civil Service Commission, the Mayor, and the Chief of Police.

Legal and ethical options should be nailed down and then adhered to.

It would seem that, ethically, the officials should do everything they can to see that the investigation if the officer in question is complete as possible, If they can legally require that he take a lie detector test, they should do so. If they can’t, then they should leave him alone.

The simplest solution rests with the officer. He has a great obligation to the public he serves and who pay his salary. As a law enforcer, his obligation to adhere to both the spirit and the intent of the law is far greater than that of the average citizen.

His badge and the gun he carries separates him from the public and sets him upon a pedestal.

The officer should come forward (not publically, but privately to State Police investigators) and offer any pertinent information that he has and should take it upon himself to lift the mist from around the department by taking the polygraph examination.

His public is more important than his own well being and than any need he has to protect Mrs. Edwards.

Some will view Barlow’s actions in talking as courageous, others will wonder what he had to gain by attacking police.

Whatever the reactions, whatever his reasons, he has raised questions that must be dealt with.

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