Boise police ethics bruise has left a mark

We’ll never know whether the Boise Police Department’s ethics breach would have come to light without a Wall Street Journal story that exposed a trip Deputy Chief Eugene Smith took at the expense of Taser International, the company Boise later hired to put body cameras on its officers.

But we do know that Boise P.D. and, by extension, the city of Boise failed an ethics test — the one that says you should be doing the above-board, transparent thing every time, not just when the public is looking or when you’re convinced that accepting a private vendor’s trip to Arizona won’t influence you to buy its services instead of the competition’s.

The tough but good news is that everybody involved — from Smith, who did not disclose the 2015 trip until early this year, to Police Chief Bill Bones to Mayor Dave Bieter — has had a rude wake-up call and the city has an opportunity to hit the ethics reset button.

We would expect as much from Boise and Bieter, who won his first term as mayor in 2003 after campaigning on ethics following a serious misstep involving questionable trips taken by his predecessor, Brent Coles.

Bieter cast this incident in the proper context, allowing that although the trip was not illegal, a negative cloud will remain over the contract between the city and the vendor. Whether the city would have ultimately done business with Taser or not (and it likely would have for practical police reasons about the product), the breach of ethics opens the door for a breach of trust to linger. We agree with Bieter that this situation is “unacceptable,” and we agree that it is time for Boise P.D. and other city departments to revisit and recommit to the ethical standards we expect from city government.

By now everybody involved should have learned a couple of valuable lessons: Pay your own way when you are assessing a potential vendor, and never be deluded that there is much difference between a conflict of interest and the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Both circumstances immediately damage the level of integrity and trust that took City Hall more than a decade to rebuild.

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