November 24, 2010 in City

To police officers who answer the call: Thank you

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Here on the eve of Thanksgiving, I’d like to say thanks to a few people.

Dan Cole. Bill Hager. Bruce Palmer. Doug Strosahl. Kyle Heuett. Mike McNab.

These are the Spokane police officers who will spend this Thanksgiving on leave – it’s paid, but no vacation – after the shooting of a disturbed man who was running around, firing a shotgun and putting a lot of people in harm’s way in north Spokane on Nov. 12.

The investigation is ongoing and questions, as they say, remain. It’s not yet clear if the man fired first at police, though he fired at others and it seems he was ready to run into a restaurant. And I’m not thanking these six cops for shooting Ethan Corporon, exactly. His 29 years of life were filled with enough violence, drug use, hospitalization and strife for 1,000 lives. He should probably have been in an institution, not shot to death, but that’s not on the police.

The end of his life was just another sign that we don’t have much of a strategy for handling disturbed and violent men, except to call the cops when things go haywire.

So I’m not glad that Corporon was shot. I’m just glad no one else was.

Because when things do go haywire, and someone is running around, firing a shotgun and putting a lot of people in harm’s way, someone has to go there and do something.

And who’s that going to be? You and me? I can barely run a foot, and that foot doesn’t point in the direction of danger. The geniuses of the Internet, who sling the harshest, most baseless insults they can muster? Of course not.

So, thanks, Dan Cole, Bill Hager, Bruce Palmer, Doug Strosahl, Kyle Heuett and Mike McNab. And all the other police officers who answer the call.

Happy Thanksgiving.

This is not my most natural attitude toward the police. For one thing, we’ve had all too much shooting around here lately, and I’m less than thankful for it – even if the police are sometimes given no choice. And there are some past missteps that are hard to forgive, most notably the department’s truth-challenged handling of the Otto Zehm case.

We have a toxic relationship between the public – or at least some of it – and the police. I think a lot of it stems from the way our police agencies investigate the use of force, punish it or don’t, and talk about it in public. As a result, a lot of cynicism and enmity has arisen between critics and cops.

There are the aforementioned Internet slanderers, but this isn’t a one-sided dance. I’ve been bowled over by the pure disgust and disdain for the public expressed by officers or their defenders responding to legitimate criticisms – whether they’re calling someone who was just fatally shot a scumbag or insisting on keeping their raises even if it means a bunch of fellow officers get laid off.

It becomes awfully hard to thank the police because they’re so strenuously thanking themselves. The last time I wrote critically about the police union, I got an e-mail from someone who appears to be an officer – though it’s always hard to tell when someone doesn’t sign their name – saying I was an IDIOT!!! and I was FAT!!! and that police are HEROES!!! who risk their lives every day while the public sits around and gets lard-assed on Obama handouts.

I’m not kidding. He called me fat. Whereas clearly I’m just big-boned.

But it occurred to me that this guy probably thinks I hate him as much as he hates me. Which isn’t true – even though I support independent oversight of the police and think the city cops ought to give up their raises to keep more officers on the beat.

But that’s because I want them around. Enough of them to make a difference when and if someone takes up a gun and starts putting me and mine in mortal danger.

So thanks, guys.

Dan Cole, Bill Hager, Bruce Palmer, Doug Strosahl, Kyle Heuett, Mike McNab: I hope you have a happy day. I hope you can work through whatever it must be like to have to make the decisions you had to make that day. I hope you can find a way to ignore the chorus of losers who attack you unmercifully, without dismissing legitimate, well-meant concerns of citizens who want a just system of justice.

And while I’m at it, thanks to the city’s firefighters, whose union seems poised to do the honorable thing and give up pay raises to preserve fire services. Their deal is actually still being voted on, and the details aren’t known. But it seems very likely that it involves giving up at least some of their raises – which were legally binding and negotiated in good faith with the city. Now a fire station won’t close, and no firefighters will be laid off.

Thanks, Local 29 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, for setting a good example. Unions are taking a big hit in this recession, and the union haters are out in full force. Thanks for taking away some of their ammunition.

And thanks, librarians. Sorry some of you felt demonized by a column I wrote last week. I love libraries and the work librarians do and don’t want to see them vanish for needy kids. That’s all. I hope we can make up over time.

And thanks for reading, you seven or eight stalwarts of the printed page. I was a young boy reading Mike Royko when it first occurred to me that writing a column would be a cool job. Turns out that it is.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com.


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