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Sheriff John Buncich with Deborah Back

Former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, center, and Deborah Back, to his immediate right, holding his arm, leaving federal court in August after he was was found guilty of felony bribery.

As ex-Sheriff John Buncich begins his third day of a 15-plus-year prison sentence, it's time for the white-hot spotlight of reform to train on another disgrace left in Buncich's wake.

It's but one example of a detestable practice that should be audited and eradicated in every level of Region government.

When Buncich, his defense team and girlfriend Deborah Back arrived in Hammond federal court for the former sheriff's sentencing on felony bribery charges Tuesday, they had no idea Back would be called to the witness stand.

While being questioned by federal prosecutors Tuesday, Back admitted to the unauthorized use of a police records database.

She had been attempting to dredge up sensitive background information on accusers of her boyfriend, the embattled former sheriff.

Back is an employee — a nurse supervisor — for the private contractor providing medical service at the Lake County Jail, over which Buncich had supreme authority during his tenure as sheriff.

So somehow, a county contractor, who also happens to be Buncich's girlfriend, was given access to a system that should have been the bastion of sworn police.

Those circumstances alone are a reprehensible abuse and security breach.

New Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez Jr. was right to ban Back from any jail access after learning of this breach.

He's also right to initiate a criminal investigation of Back's behavior, noting state laws, not just sheriff's department policies, may have been violated.

In an immediate sense, the sheriff must begin an audit of police and jail employee access to the Spillman police database. No employee, police or civilian, should be able to use the system for personal gain or vendetta.

But in a greater sense, the entire county and its residents should be eyeing the Back revelations as an indictment of the inherent pitfalls of nepotism and patronage hiring.

Other examples of these conflicts abound in Lake County and other levels of Region government.

We recently also learned of patronage hiring in the county's E-911 emergency dispatch related to Lake County Councilman Jamal Washington, who faces new domestic violence charges against a female cousin a year after pleading guilty to battering his wife.

That cousin, and his political ally LaVetta Sparks-Wade, both received jobs in E-911 dispatch on the same day, and a former Lake County E-911 director told us Washington made a career out of pushing patronage hiring in the dispatch center.

We've written about numerous other incidences of friends, relatives and political allies of Region elected officials receiving jobs or contracts on the tax rolls.

The Buncich case illustrates just how hazardous that can become to the integrity of law enforcement — and local government in general.

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Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Editor Marc Chase, Deputy Editor Kerry Erickson, Assistant Local News Editor Crista Zivanovic and Regional News Editor Sharon Ross.