I grew up outside of Kansas City in the 1980’s. The Kansas City police had a tough job as violent crime was beginning to rise to a point where it would eventually become the murder capital of the country. The cops seemed big, tough, and in total control. Yet, we loved running into a policeman at the supermarket or QuikTrip. Why? They always carried Chiefs football trading cards and loved handing them out with a big smile. It was that simple.
Flash forward to today’s Summit County and Park City. When I moved here a few years back, a friend warned me about the police and said you have to be careful. He told me stories that he was often pulled over “because he looked hispanic”. He said his younger friends in high school were continually pulled over for “no reason”. KPCW’s Leslie Thatcher even questioned Sheriff candidate, and current deputy, Justin Martinez about kids getting pulled over for a “dim license plate lights”. While it may not be a common occurrence and may even be overblown, it doesn’t seem to be an isolated incident and it’s definitely in the public’s psyche.
Across the country the reputation and opinion about police forces are taking hits. Whether it’s the situation in Ferguson Missouri, where an unarmed 18-year old was killed by police, or whether it’s the general militarization of the police across the country, police often don’t have the best name anymore.
Even here, in November of 2013, we had our own version of this when the Summit County Sheriff’s office called in Park City Police, the Wasatch Sheriff, and the Utah Highway patrol to break up an underage party. While there is little doubt the party should have been broken up, the show of force seemed way over the top to many community members. A guest editorial in the Park Record compared the tactics used to Storm Troopers. While Sheriff Edmunds and other community members have different opinions on this, the accusations at best do nothing to make the community feel better about our sheriff and police and at worse cement the negative opinion in many people’s minds.
While Sheriff Edmunds has done many good things for our community, the upcoming election offers the chance for a new beginning in the Sheriff office’s interaction with the community. During Justin Martinez’s interview with KPCW he even said that he would like to be able to put his own stamp on things. I’m sure Kris Hendricksen, his opponent, feels the same way.
With that in mind, ditch the black uniforms (they do cause people to be more aggressive and distrust the police). Phase out the Black SUV’s. Think carefully before you decide you need to profile someone. Say hi to everyone. Simply, be more Andy Griffith than Dirty Harry.
A few weeks back, my wife was sitting with our 2 year old in front of the Library. My two year old smiled and stared intently as a sheriff’s deputy walked by. A minute later the deputy walked back by and glanced at my wife and son. He didn’t say a word, he didn’t smile, he just kept walking. Perhaps he was busy and didn’t have time. But if he would have stopped, bent down, and shook my kids hands to introduce himself, my son would still be talking about it today. A little more of that simple, genuine kindness would go a long way to changing impressions.