It's hard to find good help. Or perhaps a better way to put it is that it's hard to find a flawless person for any job.
The latest embodiment of this bromide is David Hutchinson, Hennepin County sheriff, first elected in 2018. When Hutchinson next faces voters on Nov. 8, 2022 — assuming that remains a viable opportunity for him — he'll wear the following designation alongside "incumbent":
Law enforcer who flouted the law.
In the wee hours Wednesday, Hutchinson was involved in vehicle rollover on Interstate 94 near Alexandria, Minn., where he was attending a law enforcement conference. He explained in a subsequent public statement that he had made the "inexcusable decision to drive after drinking alcohol." The county vehicle he was driving was the only one involved, and he was the only occupant, suffering noncritical injuries — matters of considerable fortune given the worst-case scenarios that could have played out.
He could have killed someone.
We don't yet know what the sheriff's blood-alcohol concentration was nor whether it exceeded the 0.08% limit. That he sought to get ahead of the story suggests that he felt it was at least a close call.
That the State Patrol administered a urine test rather than a blood test — though allowed in Minnesota and described as "standard procedure when impairment is suspected in a crash and a person is transported to the hospital" — raises questions about the reliability of the evidence. The law should treat Hutchinson as it would any suspected impaired driver, but a special level of transparency is warranted in cases involving public officials.
The sheriff himself should ensure that the public gets as much context as it can, short of placing himself in undue legal jeopardy. There's much more to know about this incident, including where and with whom Hutchinson was drinking, and how far he drove.
As of Thursday morning Hutchinson had not been charged, but he said he was prepared to accept the consequences of his actions. "As the chief law enforcement officer in Hennepin County, I am held to a higher standard," he said.
Actually, the standard is the same for everyone — don't drink to a point of impairment, not even close, if you're going to drive — but, yes, society does expect its leaders to be exemplary.
Alas, leaders are not always so. Human blunder is universal. But given the existing turmoil in law enforcement, it was a poor time to prove the point.
Though reactions from county officials have been sympathetic so far, the question of whether Hutchinson should resign is unavoidable. It wouldn't be an unreasonable consequence for such a violation of the public trust.
But unless further information comes to light showing an egregious infraction — or a deeper problem that raises questions about the sheriff's ability to perform in a high-pressure role — we believe his immediate plans should be to continue to deal honestly with the event and its implications; to atone for his offense if he is determined to have committed one, and to return to work. With law enforcement leadership in flux in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, the metro area needs stability.
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, 1 in 7 licensed drivers in the state has a record of driving while impaired. Of those half a million motorists, 58% have just one such violation. Whether it's the one time they did it or the one time they got caught is guesswork.
Taking into account Hutchinson's forthrightness and contrition so far, we'd extend a spirit of forbearance for now.
As long as neither he nor the 1 in 7 forget:
He could have killed someone.