Over the last few weeks, I have read the articles and subsequent comments on several police involved incidents that have grabbed the headlines in North Idaho. From the shooting on the 90 in Post Falls, to the "Nicklebag" incident, to the shooting of the Labrador dog near downtown Cd'A, it seems like everyone has an opinion. Unfortunately, many of the opinions are simple hyperbole, and to summarize too many of the comments, the cops are wrong-headed, out of control criminals who we should fear. Really? Is that your experience, or is that a story you are repeating from a "friend?"
Let's start with the shooting on the 90 freeway. What did the cops do wrong on that? Should they have not pursued the car out of Cd'A? When the car stopped and the driver got out and starting shooting, should the cops have just stayed in their cars? Or maybe the cops should have only fired a "couple of shots." Question: If someone were shooting at you, how many shots would you fire to protect yourself? One? Two? How about as many as it takes to stop the threat? Doesn't that make the most sense?
Yet, many of the comments were critical of the involved officers and agencies. I suggest we all wait until the entire incident has been investigated and the findings submitted before coming to judgment. If there was wrongdoing on the part of the officers involved, or with the current policies, then the officers should be held accountable and the policies changed. Pre-judging doesn't properly serve anyone.
The "Nicklebag" incident caused many to call for the officers to be terminated and elicited comments as to how out of control they were. After all, the deputies detained two subjects "for no reason," and then used profanities in the process. Might I suggest otherwise?
According to the articles and video, the deputies thought they heard the two subjects state something about a nickel bag, which we should be able to agree is a drug-related term. After investigating the incident for a few minutes, the subjects were released. Even though the subjects told the deputies they could search the vehicle, I don't believe they did.
What exactly do we want our law enforcement to do? Should they ignore what they thought they heard? Should they only act upon something they know 100 percent to be true? If that is the case, then I suggest they would not be effective and there would be people complaining that the cops aren't doing their jobs. Law enforcement needs to be able to follow their intuition and hunches, as long as they do it within the confines of the law. Many cases start with something that just does not look right, and the officers, acting upon their experience and training, find that to be so.
Again, if the deputies violated policies or went outside the law, then they should be held accountable. I don't care for the profanities and I believe that was unprofessional. But what I didn't see or hear were rogue cops who were out of control.
Now for the last incident, which is the shooting of the Labrador dog. According to the press accounts, the officers were called to investigate a suspicious van in a parking lot. When they arrived, one of the officers shot and killed a dog, which was in the van. It appears from the press that the officers didn't interview witnesses, make much of an attempt to locate the owner of the van, or spend much time completing an investigation.
If the press accounts are accurate, then there certainly may be some policy issues that need to be corrected and the involved officers' actions need to be closely reviewed. This incident is a tragedy for the dog, its owner and the involved officers.
For the post-incident process, I would not have had an internal review of the matter. Rather, I would have asked for an independent investigation to remove any accusations of a cover-up or incomplete investigation. The shooting of a dog can create as much emotion and outcry as the shooting of a person, and that fact should have been anticipated by the command staff.
But again, we should all wait for the investigation to be complete before pre-judging all involved and painting the entire police department as rogue or as thugs. Many of the officers have been at Cd'A for years, and have served the community well, so a broad-based accusation of rogue cops is unwarranted. If the involved officers were outside policy or violated the law, then they should be held accountable.
Police work is like making sausage - it is ugly, dirty work that most people do not want to see being done. The police do not get called because something is going right; they only get called when something is going wrong. We should never expect our law enforcement officers and agencies to be perfect, as they are made up with imperfect people. We should expect professionals. We should expect them to enforce the law with respect and without prejudice. We should hold them accountable when they make mistakes and prosecute them when they violate the law. They are not above the law, and in my opinion, should be held to an even higher standard that the average person. But they should also be afforded the respect of not pre-judging them.
Allen Huggins, a Coeur d'Alene resident, is a recently retired police captain with more than 28 years of law enforcement experience. He spent almost a decade in Professional Standards - internal affairs - where he reviewed thousands of critical incidents.