Letter: Do we expect too much from police?

By Rufus Rose

How much do we expect of our police? Perhaps, too much at times. Consider the following points:

1. Langley Police Chief David Marks’ handling of an incident involving a repeat trespasser in Langley has been in the news since late last year. The news described the event as the police response to a merchant’s request to remove a vagrant from the store because the vagrant’s repeated presence in the store was disruptive. Chief Marks was reported to have used excessive force when dealing with the incident. Our county prosecuting attorney investigated and concluded that a jury was not likely to convict Chief Marks of a crime. He referred the matter to Langley. The mayor of Langley hired a “use of force expert” who reviewed the situation and reported that Chief Marks “followed the right protocol” in a highly detailed 45-page report.

2. Four days after the results of that investigation were reported above the fold on the front page of the South Whidbey Record, a recently appointed South Whidbey citizen member of the Island County Law and Justice Council sent an email to that council requesting two items be added to the agenda for the June 27 meeting stating, “I am sorry, but I will be unable to attend the meeting this week as I will be in Washington, D.C. for events around the unlawful detention and separation of children from their parents by the current federal administration and efforts to deny due process to those families. Clarification of Island County law enforcement policy regarding cooperation with ICE and other immigration bodies including border patrol, DSH, etc. It may be useful to review Gov. Inslee’s executive order 17-01.”

3. The citizen member’s email to the Law and Justice Council detailed the author’s view that “many other citizens” have concerns about Chief Marks’ “fitness for duty,” even after the expert’s report stated that Chief Marks “followed right protocol.” The email’s major paragraph was critical of Chief Marks and concluded, “I believe the (Law & Justice Council) has the duty to review the situation and encourage the Langley City Council to take appropriate action.”

4. The citizen member’s email concluded, “I do realize that both these issues are controversial in nature, but both relate to confidence of the citizenry in law enforcement and are thus very important to review.”

5. The City of Seattle is reported to be currently experiencing an increased number of police officers leaving Seattle’s police department for other local municipal police departments. Seattle is also experiencing a significant homeless problem. Tent and RV encampments, substance abuse, assaults on tourists and vacant beds at the Union Gospel Mission and Salvation Army facilities continue. It seems that some people are attracted to “free stuff” provided by the municipality so long as there are no behavior standards required. A web search for “photos of homeless camps in Seattle” is instructive.

6. The June 23 edition of the South Whidbey Record editorial page had a letter from an Oak Harbor resident captioned, “Life isn’t free; it’s time for community to teach that.”

The letter acknowledged that some people have very tough lives and that everyone needs help at times. But discarding donated clothing and urinating and pooping on public streets is not acceptable. What are the standards we expect our police officers to enforce in Oak Harbor and in Langley?

7. Our behavior is always driven by our personal situations. Ultimately, we all decide how to behave.

When we do not or cannot behave in accordance with community standards we rely on public services. Our police are the first element of our public safety services.

We qualify, train, equip and monitor their performance. Commissioned peace officers like Chief Marks are routinely required to enforce our public safety standards under very close public scrutiny.

8. Chief Marks took his many public safety responsibilities very seriously. He was deeply concerned about and active with substance abuse problems. He routinely dealt with people who abuse substances and can be extremely dangerous. He wore a bullet proof vest and carried a weapon so he could more safely function as one of our peace officers while protecting himself.

I pray that our peace officers will not be too discouraged by unrealistic expectations and standards they are not practically allowed to enforce.

• Rufus Rose is a resident of Clinton

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