Like so many Americans, I have watched with sadness as conflict between citizens and law enforcement has played out on my television screen.
And though those incidents took place far away, in cities such as Ferguson and Baltimore, they got me thinking about our community’s relationship with those who serve and protect us.
What were the underlying causes of these conflicts? If we look below the surface, will we find any of those in our own community? And what should we reasonably expect of those brave men and women who put their own safety at risk so the rest of us can work, raise our families and enjoy life without fear?
I pondered these questions for some time. Ultimately, I decided that the best way to answer them was in an open and honest community conversation about 21st Century law enforcement.
With that in mind, I asked for help. A small group gathered in my office a few months ago to chart a path forward. This steering committee consisted of Idaho Falls Police Chief Mark McBride and department spokeswoman Joelyn Hansen; Bonneville County Sheriff Paul Wilde; and two members of the community—Tim Hopkins, a respected attorney and Idaho Falls civic leader for five decades, and Corey Taule, a longtime journalist who has written often about the relationship between community and law enforcement.
Immediately, we determined that an informed discussion required information. We needed to know how the community views local law enforcement. Zions Bank agreed to sponsor a survey of eastern Idahoans, conducted by respected pollster Dan Jones & Associates. But what should we ask?
After some discussion, the steering committee drafted a list of roughly 20 questions that addressed a variety of topics: race, drugs, mental illness, body cameras for police offices, citizen oversight, traffic safety and the idea of community policing, to name a few. Results from that poll will be released on the city’s website.
Now we need to take the next step. It’s time for that open and honest conversation about what we have learned and where we are heading.
That will take place Wednesday from 7-9 p.m. at the University Place Auditorium in Idaho Falls. I’ve asked Tim Hopkins to moderate a panel discussion that will include a diverse group: police officers, policymakers, journalists, youth, racial minorities, and civic and spiritual leaders.
Clearly, this panel will have much to talk about. But we have allotted two hours for this discussion because we also need to hear your thoughts and address your questions. We need citizen participation. We need you to show up, listen and be heard.
Members of the audience will be asked to submit questions/observations in writing. Some will be discussed. All will become part of the record and considered moving forward.
Eastern Idahoans are fortunate in so many ways. We live in a beautiful place among friendly people who look out for each other. And when trouble does arrive, help is never far away. Our peace officers, from city and state police to deputies in county sheriff’s offices, are our friends, neighbors and family members. These good people truly do serve and protect.
But we can take nothing for granted and can never fall into the trap of assuming we cannot do better.
That’s the reason for all this. I want to make sure the lines of communication are open and that we continue to improve service to our citizens long after someone else occupies this office.
That effort begins in earnest on Wednesday. Please join us. Speak out. Be a part of this discussion and help ensure that local law enforcement benefits us all.
Rebecca Casper is mayor of Idaho Falls.