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The Harper sentence: Justice is served

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Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Apologists for corrupt cops wanted a federal judge to show former Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper leniency and mercy on Tuesday when he was sentenced for leading a conspiracy to steal public money and failing to file tax returns. Neither was deserved and little was given in U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon's courtroom.

Mr. Harper, 61, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay nearly $32,000 in restitution. He diverted more than $70,000 from a city account into two police credit union accounts. Then he used close to half of it for personal expenses. Those implicated in his thievery fingered Harper as the mastermind. The judge agreed. Nate Harper is a common crook.

Still, the crowd that would rather spare the rod and spoil the ex-chief wanted probation. After all, Harper didn't get into law enforcement to enrich himself; he came to it late in life. Some defense. And, don't you know, subjecting Harper to the maw of prison isn't justice but revenge. His rehabilitation, if not his redemption, could be better had by lecturing recruits on resisting occupational temptations. But if that's a sincere entreaty, the visual of doing it from behind bars would have far greater impact.

Plato put it all in perfect perspective a few centuries back: “He who desires to inflict rational punishment does not retaliate for a past wrong which cannot be undone; he has regard to the future, and is desirous that the man who is punished, and he who sees him punished, may be deterred from doing wrong again.”

And that is the justice of Nate Harper's sentence.

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