Peace Officers Memorial Day

Since 1962, May 15th has been federally proclaimed as Peace Officers Memorial Day, and the week it occurs in is Police Week. Mayor Pam Pruitt offered a proclamation of Police Week at the May 14th City Council Meeting. In future years, I will ask that we also lower the flag at City Hall to half-mast on the 15th.

I attended the Citizen’s Police Academy in 2018, and had the honor of meeting several members of the MCPD, as they came to teach us about various aspects of policing. Each one made me more and more proud to be a member of this community, and I would like to acknowledge them.

Det. Sgt. Stan White is the community coordinator, and was responsible for putting the program together, along with the PD’s hardest working volunteer, Sally Dagna. He is also responsible for recruiting volunteers to help with traffic at parades. Also, he’s a great person to talk to about challenges to the field of policing. I appreciate those efforts so much, and the opportunities they have made available.

Corporal Rory Mundwiler taught us a bit about the history of Mill Creek, gave an overview of the department, and, along with Det. Sgt. White, led tours of the station. This included showing us a patrol vehicle, and the equipment they carry. For Corporal Mundwiler, this includes a handful of toys for any kids who might find themselves on the periphery of police involvement. While he did not let us turn on the siren, he did promise me, on my ride along, that I could light any flares we might need. He also answered every question I could think of about police use of force issues, for which I will always be grateful. He told me a very impactful story at the end of the night, but I won’t spoil it, in case you ever have the opportunity to hear him tell it.

Officer Nathan Lerma came to talk to us about working with his K-9 partner, Bagira. All of the information about how K-9’s work was fascinating, but it particularly stuck with me when he talked about a core piece of training being to set the dog up for success. If a dog isn’t learning a particular behavior, you have to find an easier piece of the task, one they can succeed at, and get their treat. This helped me not only in interacting with my dog, but has become a common piece to a lot of problem solving. I would so much rather ask, “How can we set people up to succeed at…” than, “How can we make people do…”

Officer Brett Thompson spoke about patrol, including priorities, areas, daytime versus nighttime issues, how dispatch works, and the necessary mindset for officers. To illustrate the last, he showed us a video of a traffic stop, where the man pulled over was infuriated, screaming, being abusive, and ripping up his ticket. The officer in the video never raised his voice, but showed increasing irritation over the course of the encounter, understandably. In response to the classes’ sympathy, Officer Thompson said that the sarcastic tone of the officer in the video was probably not helping, either. I was incredibly moved by the conviction that service means going above and beyond to conduct oneself with compassion, even in the face of egregious behavior.

Denise Gilbertson and Becky Hookland, who were, at the time, the entirety of the Police Records Department, gave us an overview of their days. It’s important to remember that records are a set of “just in case” file drawers. They have to be accessible to other departments, for background checks, for freedom of information requests, and to inform future contacts with individuals.

Officer Chris White came and shared some of her traffic expertise with us. She has self-motivated special training in collision investigation and inspecting commercial motor vehicles. Mill Creek is lucky to have her specialized knowledge.

Det. Tyrone Hughes, along with Det. Sgt. White, taught about investigations, including types of investigations, the role of the medical examiner, and forensics techniques. He looks every bit like a t.v. detective, except the toll of being a compassionate person doing hard work is a bit more evident.

Sgt. Robert Phillips, Mill Creek’s SWAT officer, taught us about use of force and officer safety. I was so tense showing up for this class, but Bobby immediately made me feel better. He gave a thorough overview of the legal standards, adding “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should,” which stands as another example of MCPD members’ commitment to being even better than they have to be. He came back later for a SWAT presentation, and let me play with his kiddo.

Sgt. Bart Fouch gave us an overview of use of force options, with equipment for us to play with – I mean, examine. We learned that tasers are only about 30% effective, but police still choose to carry them, as a safer option.

Officer Tyler Kidwell, who was recently seen in a video posted on Facebook walking a horse home, taught about active threats, obviously another very stressful topic. He talked about being able to get in position to successfully taze a man sitting on a suitcase of explosives, in the back of Albertsons, and being grateful for the opportunity to get everyone out of the situation alive.

Police Support Officer Larissa Pigott told us about her duties involving animal control, corrections, parking enforcement, and crime prevention. Quite a variety of skills! She endured many questions that came down to “Would I get a ticket if I…” with utmost patience.

Chaplain Nick Lewis covered emergency preparedness and the role of chaplin, a volunteer position. I’m not sure if I’m actually thankful for the talk on emergency prep, as it scared the bejeezus out of me. I have a pretty decent emergency kit now, though, so he knows what he’s about.

Officer Brett Thompson covered corrections, including the challenge of arresting those under the influence of opioids. Due to liability concerns, no jails will accept them at booking, which limits officer options. Such a chill, nice guy, if anyone has to take you to jail, you might as well hope it’s him.

Deputy Chief Scott Eastman came to introduce himself at the beginning of the program. He’s been the inaugural hire to that role, for about the past year-and-a-half. Scott is just like the uncle that you really look forward to seeing at Thanksgiving, because he genuinely cares what you’ve been up to, and thinks you’re doing great.

And, Chief Greg Elwin showed up to help kick us off, and to deliver a graduation address. He talked about the Six Pillars of Police Legitimacy: 1) Building trust; 2) Good policy and oversight; 3) Good use of technology and social media; 4) Community policing and crime reduction; 5) Training and education; 6) Officer safety and wellness. I trust him to lead on those principles, which contributes to my tremendous pride in Mill Creek.

These officers have our backs, which is why I am committed to having theirs, as vice-president of the Mill Creek Police Foundation, as a citizen advocate, and, in the future, as a member of City Council. One important action item will be taking steps towards acquiring a TruNarc chemical identification system.

These devices increase officer safety by allowing substances to be tested without having to open the package. Modern drugs can be fatal even if they are inhaled, so the least possible contact with packaging is very important. I would begin by asking staff to research equipment use and outcomes, whether a newer technology will be available any time soon, and whether any grants are available that would contribute to the $20,000 price tag.

Finally, as this is a day of memorial, I would like to mention Police Service Dog Rasko. He was Mill Creek’s first K-9, and he served from November of 2013 until he was medically retired in March of 2018. Sadly, he passed away only a few months later, having touched the lives of many members of the community.