Two summers ago a 16-year veteran police officer in Lehi, Utah was shot by a female motorist during a traffic stop. The woman who fired the weapon was a Washington State resident who was being pulled over for possibly driving under the influence.
This past winter an officer with the Millard County Sheriff’s Office was tragically shot and killed during a stop involving two men who were possibly fleeing a scene in a stolen vehicle.
These are the realities our police officers live with every day. The element of the unknown is always present and real possibilities of altercation are never far from their minds. The job requires quick, split-second reflexes and yet when the response is not the absolute perfect reaction, somehow we forget they’re like the rest of us – humans, mere mortals.
The recent coverage of Provo Police officers in two cases is a reminder to us that we can and will improve.
In one case, an officer was allegedly involved in illegal conduct that offends all of us. It is important to know that within minutes of this incident being reported an internal investigation was launched and a third party agency was brought in to investigate. This investigation quickly led to the termination of the officer.
In another recently covered case, two officers were guilty of very poor judgment. Their attempt at humor backfired and caused unnecessary stress on a bystander. Although only recently reported, this took place months ago and was dealt with appropriately when it occurred. I have personally investigated the situation and am confident they have suffered for their actions far in excess of their error.
Before we judge the officers, I ask all of us to remember that they were called to the scene of a potential bank robbery. They saw a parked car at the scene and approached the vehicle not knowing if they would be asked to confront a guiltless student or a criminal armed and desperate enough to fire at them. The officers had only a few seconds to make that judgment call and adjust from one extreme to another. In this case an error was made. Humor is never a substitute for professionalism.
Not reported were the thousands of times they have handled similar circumstances correctly. This includes the occasion one of the same officers approached an unknown car in the dark and was called upon to do something he’d never done before – deliver a baby on the freeway off ramp.
As a city, we are committed to being better, focusing harder, and measuring our responses with more precision. We want to assure the public that we recognize when we are imperfect and that we are taking the necessary steps to correct any inappropriate behavior.
I encourage residents to please be careful drawing conclusion from a few negative stories that show up in the media. Instead look at all the admirable things our officers do daily. Our streets are safe largely due to their diligence.
On the same day I learned about the attempt at humor, I was informed that another officer responded to a vehicle burglary. With no apparent evidence, he was able to link together a series of facts that led to an arrest for vehicle burglary, theft, unlawful acquisition of a credit card, credit card fraud, possession of another person’s ID, and possession of drug paraphernalia. The arrest took place within hours of the incident. This example more accurately represents the high quality work that is typical of our police department.
I’m confident in the officers that protect us and help make Provo the amazing city it is to live in, recreate in, and raise a family. None of us is perfect but we will use this as another chance to learn how to do things just a little better.