Thursday, June 10, 1999

Review panels for
child protection

Bullet The issue: The Department of Human Services has been criticized for lapses in protecting children from abuse.
Bullet Our view: Citizen review panels could make constructive suggestions to strengthen the program.

THE agonizing stories of child abuse, even to the point of death, and the failure of the state's Child Protective Services to prevent several such tragedies have the community searching for answers. A new effort to find answers will soon be under way.

A citizen review panel is being assembled that could meet the need for an independent review of the system and make suggestions for improvement to the Department of Human Services. Such panels are required by 1996 amendments to the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.

The state hopes to form at least three review panels. The first is expected to be organized this month, for Kauai. Similar groups have operated on the mainland since the 1980s.

Human Services Director Susan Chandler welcomes the review panels and says she will take their recommendations very seriously.

State Rep. Dennis Arakaki, a longtime supporter of children's programs, said the panels are needed because Child Protective Services "is such a closed system. There is no way you can challenge any of the policies or decisions being made."

Criticism of Child Protective Services has intensified since 4-year-old Reubyne Buentipo Jr. was beaten into a coma after CPS made the disastrous mistake of returning him to his home.

The review panels offer hope that independent observers can make significant contributions that will make similar blunders much less likely.


Police brutality

Bullet The issue: A New York jury in a police brutality case failed to accept the victim's allegations that were not backed by officers' testimony.
Bullet Our view: Police departments must seek ways to penetrate officers' code of silence that allows brutality to go unpunished.

ALTHOUGH one New York police officer pleaded guilty and another was convicted of torturing a Haitian immigrant in a Brooklyn station house, the jury's verdict is troubling for its omission. Where the allegations of the victim, Abner Louima, were unsupported by other testimony, accused officers were exonerated. The blue wall of silence emerged intact.

Officer Justin Volpe pleaded guilty two weeks ago to putting a stick into Louima's rectum. The plea seemed to bolster Louima's credibility. However, jurors rejected Louima's claim that Volpe and three other officers beat him in a police car while he was being taken to the station house.

While the panel convicted Officer Charles Schwarz of restraining Louima during Volpe's bathroom assault, two other officers were acquitted of beating Louima in the police car. Other officers testified about the bathroom assault, but Louima's account of being attacked in the police car went uncorroborated.

The two acquitted officers face a second trial on charges of conspiring to protect Schwarz against Louima's allegations, but prosecutors could have difficulty in obtaining convictions.

The civil rights group Human Rights Watch said in a report last year, "those who claim that each high-profile human rights abuse is an aberration, committed by a 'rogue' officer, are missing the point. Human rights violations persist in large part because the accountability systems are so defective."

Five years ago, a commission investigating corruption in the New York Police Department found that officers accused of brutality had gone unmonitored or undisciplined and that the "code of silence" had hampered internal investigations.

New York is not alone in its failure to prevent police abuse. It exists where departments have vague policies against abuse, substandard training and screening that allows continued employment of officers with long records of misbehavior.

The police code of silence may be the most formidable obstacle of all.


Aid from Taiwan

Bullet The issue: President Lee Teng-hui announced $300 million in aid to the refugees from Kosovo.
Bullet Our view: The donation underlines the policy differences between Taipei and Beijing.

WHILE Beijing denounced the NATO raids on Yugoslavia, Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui has announced a gift of $300 million to help the refugees driven from Kosovo by the brutal tactics of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

The contrasting policies underline the vast differences in outlook between the Chinese Communist regime and the Nationalists on Taiwan. China views the NATO air strikes as an infringement of Yugoslav sovereignty, perhaps fearing intervention over Tibet or Taiwan.

The government on Taiwan seeks Western support and diplomatic recognition in its struggle to survive despite pressure from Beijing. Taiwan and Macedonia established diplomatic relations in January, and Taiwan has been sending emergency aid for the Kosovo refugees in Macedonia.

China has tried to isolate Taiwan diplomatically. Only 28 nations maintain diplomatic relations with Taipei. Most are poor and receive aid in return for establishing relations. The aid to the Kosovo refugees could be an attempt to strengthen Taiwan's international standing.

There is another difference. China is an authoritarian state, Taiwan a democracy. Lee's aid announcement drew domestic criticism that he had ignored the democratic process in an attempt to win international praise. Legislators accused him of deciding on the aid without consulting them or even his own ministers.

Lee's announcement seems to have been presumptuous, but the cause is a worthy one. When did the Chinese Communists give $300 million to help refugees in another country?

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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