Local agencies react to Dallas shootings
By Wenatchee World & QVPR
NCW — In Wenatchee last week, someone delivered a bouquet of flowers to the police department. Others stopped officers on the street to thank them for their service.
In East Wenatchee, a citizen walked into the police records and asked the clerk to let officers know how much they are appreciated.
In Quincy, a commemorative wreath with a black ribbon newly hangs on the door to the small police department. The department in the past week has fielded a few calls from community members sharing words of support. Others have dropped food and water off for officers.
In Grant County, Sheriff Tom Jones encouraged residents to show support for fallen Dallas police officers by lighting a candle, turning on a blue porch light, saying a prayer or sending a note or card. Jones hopes to “Light Grant County Blue,” with a goal of illuminating every home in the county with a blue porch light as a sign of support for local law enforcement.
The news that five Dallas Police officers were shot and killed by a sniper, and seven other officers were injured during an otherwise peaceful protest on July 7 was tragic for the entire nation. But it was more than news for law enforcement officers, who put a single line of black tape across their badges before going out to face another day on the streets, unsure of what to expect from the public they serve.
Leaders at local police agencies said North Central Washington doesn’t have the same racial tensions as the large, metropolitan cities where police brutality has become an issue.
But, they say, that doesn’t make the job here any safer.
Quincy Police Chief Bob Heimbach said the responses from the community were a little “reminiscent of 9/11.” The Dallas shootings “don’t make sense to people,” officers or citizens, he said.
He’s talked with officers individually and sent an email to their spouses or families. Oftentimes the public doesn’t realize how incidents like this impact an officer’s family, Heimbach said. Now, all of a sudden, they are visualizing fears they have pushed back in their minds when their loved one goes on duty, Heimbach said.
Wenatchee Police Cpt. Edgar Reinfeld said the Dallas shootings were “a shock to all civilized people, no matter who they are. But for law enforcement officers, it hits a little closer to home.”
He said at the morning shift change on July 8, he talked to officers about remembering to watch their backs, and to drop back if something feels wrong.
“The guys don’t need to be reminded, but even so, it makes me feel better,” he said.
He said locally, the police department knows it has broad-based support from the community. “But it only takes one truly disgruntled person to change the game,” he added.
That idea was reiterated by other police departments.
In an email to his employees on Friday, Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett encouraged staff to wear black tape over their badges as a sign of mourning and a show of support for the Dallas officers.
“It would seem that the world we live in is drastically changing in many ways that go against support of local law enforcement officers and agencies. I know that Washington state, specifically our area and North Central Washington, is not the case but rather we have tremendous support on a local level. Know that you are greatly appreciated and the work you do is so vitally important, never lose hope,” his email said.
Douglas County Sheriff Harvey Gjesdal said he believes his agency has a good record of treating everyone fairly, and with the respect that all people deserve.
But, he wrote in an email, “I fear that someone wanting to lash out at officers who have made poor decisions to use force will not differentiate between them and our deputies. I also worry that deputies on my team will hesitate when they need to protect themselves or others because of high-profile cases around the nation.”
Gjesdal said he wants residents to know that officers not only train with firearms, but also less lethal tools, like Tasers, and incorporate training in the proper use of force. That involves reviewing statutes and case law, and watching videos of officer-involved shootings while dissecting and discussing the incidents.
In Quincy, Heimbach said he stresses “fairness” and “legitimacy” with his officers. “We have to be viewed as legitimate in our community because when we don’t have that legitimacy we don’t have anything,” he said.
Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said it is different in the rural communities his department serves, where everybody knows everybody else. But he’s worried that, nationally, it will get worse before it gets better.
“America’s changing, you can tell,” he said, adding, “I think they forgot we are the good guys.”
Locally, he worries the national issues with police may leave all police agencies with fewer people willing to take the risk that comes with the job.
East Wenatchee Police Detective Darin Darnell said when the records clerk told him about the citizen who came in to express appreciation, it helped. “It’s nice to know we do have that support out there,” he said.
But, he added, that didn’t change how he would go about his day.
“The reality is, it most definitely can occur here,” he said. “Our officers, myself included, need to be aware of our surroundings, and be vigilant, and hope we never encounter such an event.”
Heimbach said he feared last week’s incident in Dallas will have long-lasting consequences on a national level.
“My fear is this one person, through his actions…I fear he set us back years nationally,” Heimbach said. “Actions like this don’t move the conversation forward. They pull it back.”