The motives of Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard in sending deputies on a drug raid last week disguised as firefighters are understandable. An approach to the fortified house as law officers probably would have resulted in a gun battle. As it was, the ruse worked and the raid was carried off without violence.
Yet the tactic is troubling and ought not to be repeated. It has alarmed and angered some firefighters who believe their job has been made more difficult. They fear that from now on they may be viewed as narcotics officers in disguise - a problem in California that has caused firefighters to be shot at in certain crime-ridden neighborhoods while answering fire alarms.It is unlikely to come to that in Salt Lake County, although the possibility cannot be entirely ruled out. But aside from the practical aspects of police impersonating other officials, there is a principle at stake.
The news media have been quick to complain in instances where law enforcement officers have posed as reporters while attempting to make arrests. News people are news people, with important jobs to perform. They cannot afford to have often-difficult jobs made untenable by police hiding behind bogus press badges. It might make the police job easier in a particular instance, but all reporters subsequently are viewed with suspicion.
The same argument holds true for the firefighters and any other members of society who perform an essentially public service and whose effectiveness depends in large part on cooperation by the public. It is improper to make them unwitting fronts for the police.
Kennard says he is surprised by the furor since he thought he had the permission and cooperation of fire department officials. Apparently there was a lack of complete communication among all personnel involved.
Be that as it may, the principle does not change.
However, any ill-feelings and misunderstandings that have arisen from Kennard's action should be smoothed over quickly. Police and firefighters share dangerous professions and must work together. That cooperation should not be soured by name-calling or mistrust.
County officials, the fire department and the sheriff's office should sit down in friendly fashion, heal any wounds, work out guidelines and policies to prevent such problems in the future, and close the book on what has been an unfortunate incident.