May 18, 2001 11:00 pm

In a day when people are suspicious about the integrity of public servants, including police officers, the men and women of blue in Los Angeles and New York City have passed the test.

The ABC news show Primetime reported on Thursday how the honesty of 20 police officers in the Big Apple and 20 in La-La Land (Los Angeles) was put to the test. The programs producers stuffed cash of varying amounts in wallets and turned the billfolds over to officers on the street and in patrol cars, reporting the lost had been found. The wallets included the IDs of people who could be contacted.

The officers had a choice. They could call the wallets owners and tell them that their missing property was found and return the billfolds intact. They could pilfer some of the cash and perhaps use a credit card a time or two before returning the wallet. Or they could confiscate the contents for their own use and not take steps to find the owner.

Citizens in both cities were skeptical of their officers. In Los Angeles, some felt that only 50 percent of the officers would return the lost wallets. The people of New York seemed more cynical. One woman, for example, predicted that 19 of the 20 officers would spend the money.

Now the results. In Los Angeles, 100 percent of the officers returned the wallets to their owners with all the contents in place. The officers in the Big Apple did just as well. All 20 of the officers responded properly, returning each wallet to its rightful owner.

Thats refreshing news for the public, which cynically might conclude that officers have been rubbing shoulders with bad guys for so long that this has affected their judgment and morality.

Were not saying that all officers everywhere are honest. A few of the Los Angeles and New York City officers might have been motivated by fear. They knew they could lose their jobs or face some other consequence if they werent forthright. But the TV news shows test should raise the overall confidence that the public has in its police.

This should be good news for the people of La Grande, Union, Elgin, Wallowa, Enterprise and Joseph. If officers in the big cities can be trusted to return a wallet, then we should be able to count on our small town police to tell the truth, report things accurately, be honest in court, treat the public with consistency and be committed to basic integrity in all the work they do.

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