Taking notice of the good – A message from the chief

Recent threats to officers handled well…need acknowledgement

Police in the United States today are the subject of intense scrutiny. From Albuquerque to Ferguson, the way officers and departments perform their duties is cause for discussion, argument and investigation. How police departments continue to ensure the safety of a community while protecting the constitutional rights of every citizen will continue to be the focus of discussion and debate. I am a strong supporter of this debate, as I know policing has become more professional in many ways as the result. However, I also believe our country has become so used to focusing on mistakes and misconduct, that good performance rates little notice at all. This is neither an accurate view of the job police officers do every day nor a healthy way to discuss how we want our police to perform.

Within the past two weeks, Farmington and San Juan County law enforcement have faced three serious incidents in which suspects took aggressive action toward police while in possession of a weapon. All three occurred while suspects were in the commission of felony crimes and officers attempted to arrest them. All three represented serious threats to the community and the police. All three ended without the use of deadly force by officers. All three ended without serious injury to anyone involved.

The first case was a burglary of a gun shop. Two officers made entry, observed a suspect jump up and begin running and ordered him to stop. The suspect, in a dark building, turned and fired a shot at the officers. Later investigation showed the shot nearly struck one of the officers. Neither officer returned fire. The suspect escaped and is still being sought…and we are asking for the public’s help in catching him.

The second case began when two cars were racing down Main Street during afternoon traffic. When an officer pulled them over, both fled. Officers pursued one of the drivers before breaking off due to the danger to the public. When the driver continued at a high rate of speed and head on into the wrong lane of travel, FPD again tried to stop them. This time, despite the suspect’s very dangerous driving, the driver was stopped. He fled on foot and officers chased him. Despite repeated warnings, the suspect refused to drop a knife. Officers successfully deployed a Taser and safely arrested the suspect. In addition to other charges, the driver was charged with DUI. Less than lethal force was successful in this case, though the first deployment did not work. A second deployment did allow officers to subdue the driver. However, if this had not been successful, the outcome could have been far more tragic.

The third case began as an effort by FPD to stop a reckless vehicle, again during day shift traffic. The suspect again refused to stop, nearly striking a patrol car in his effort to get away. After another pursuit, involving FPD, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office and the State Police, the suspect stopped at his residence. When ordered to surrender, he produced a baseball bat and began moving toward police. Officers successfully deployed a Taser and the suspect was taken into custody. Among many other charges, the driver was charged with DUI…for the 9th time.

Any one of these three could have resulted in the death of an officer. Law enforcement may well have been justified in using lethal force. However, in each case and under extreme pressure, officers made the decision not to use deadly force. Despite clear threats, despite confronting suspects who were making significant efforts to avoid arrest and, in at least two cases were intoxicated and refusing to comply with directions, officers handled the situation the best they could and resolved the incidents safely.

Not every situation will necessarily have the same outcome. I am not suggesting FPD does not make mistakes or that some calls could not have been handled better. What does need to be said, though, is that in many situations, when most citizens are not even aware of the danger around them, FPD officers do their very best to keep our community safe: despite facing serious threats from desperate, intoxicated, armed suspects, despite great risk to themselves, despite no big parades or public tributes. Any fair discussion of the job police officers do must pay more than a brief mention of the outstanding work that is done and shouldn’t be the beginning of a sentence attacking police (i.e. “Yes, sometimes the police do a good job, but…..”). When the police do a difficult job well, it really should be acceptable to say, “Good job” to our men and women who have volunteered to help keep us safe.

In these three incidents, any one of which could have gone very differently, I am saying, “Good Job!” I hope many of you feel the same way.

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