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Our view: The costs of corruption

Northwest Herald,
BYLINE: Northwest Herald Editorial Board
Link to Article

McHenry, IL

There are hidden costs to public corruption.

As more details emerge in the case of a former McHenry police officer accused of stealing money from the evidence lockup in the McHenry Police Department, that fact is clear as ever.

The officer accused, Dale Hojnacki, already has paid with his job. Hojnacki, a 11-year veteran of the McHenry force, is charged with stealing more than $500 seized by police in a drug bust. He could face as many as five years in prison if convicted on the felony theft charge.

But the cost of Hojnacki’s alleged breach of public trust might go beyond a lawman’s career and a little bit of drug money.

Many in the McHenry Police Department will pay too, unfortunately, in the damage to their reputation and public perception. That’s too bad because, as of now, there’s no evidence to suggest that anyone inside the department helped Hojnacki. The public needs to remember that in its dealings with McHenry Police.

One allegedly bad apple does not change the fact that, at any moment, the department’s remaining officers can be sent into situations where they face danger in the name of keeping the peace.

Of course, McHenry Police Chief John Jones has another issue on his hands. One of his former officers is accused of stealing contraband from the department without detection for months, maybe much longer. Jones and his senior officers must determine how the system broke down and work to adjust it.

In light of this, other area police departments would be wise to also look at their processes for storing evidence, and make sure the proper checks and balances are in place.

It appears the public at large might pay as well. According to a letter from Michael Combs of the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office, Hojnacki is suspected of taking confiscated drugs from sealed evidence bags at the police station.

If true, this could put locally solved drug cases on shaky ground, and could give convicted offenders legitimate grounds for appeal. An audit of the evidence in the department’s evidence locker – drugs, guns and money – will tell us more by the end of June.

Everyone wants to move on from this incident, but until we know just how much evidence might have been compromised and what the final costs to everyone will be, that won’t be possible.

The hope is that the greater cost of this breach of public trust will not prove too great, either for the McHenry Police or the public.

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