Public safety, liberty and justice for all

| June 18, 2020 1:00 AM

I’ve been thinking a lot about police, protesters and armed vigilantes. On Saturday June 6, 300 peaceful protestors marched through downtown in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The following week I, along with city councilors, received a letter of demands from the Black Lives Matter Sandpoint protesters.

The request was for elected officials to: 1) make statements in support of racial justice and the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement, 2) Require and fund annual anti-racism training for all police and city staff members, 3) Require police receive additional and regular de-escalation training, and 4) Create a community oversight board for the city police department, in line with what is recommended by Campaign Zero.

I would like to address these demands one at a time. 1) In 2001, the city passed a non-discrimination ordinance stating that Sandpoint values human rights. That statement was re-affirmed in 2016. However, this is a message that needs regular affirmation with new electeds and new events. Last night at the City Council meeting, I read the Love Lives Here proclamation affirming our commitment to “uphold and protect the civil and human rights of all individuals regardless of their race, creed, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin or immigration status.” 2) While anti-racism training for police and city staff has never been provided, it could be helpful to improve non-discriminatory policing practices and create a more inclusive culture. 3) A community oversight board could also be helpful to ensure greater police accountability. 4) SPD receives de-escalation and mental health response training which is invaluable and will continue to be an important part of police training protocol.

There have also been numerous public requests to bring our police protocols into accordance with the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which has specific recommendations to reduce the potential for excessive use of force. We are currently reviewing these recommendations. I will bring all of these demands and public requests to City Council for consideration in the next several weeks. The city has committed to a community-driven policing model, which has positively transformed its relationship with the public while improving service delivery and response capacity. In 2018, the city created a Community Resource Officer Division that addresses civil matters without sending out an armed officer. This has improved community relations, service delivery and reduced cost to the taxpayer. SPD’s level of community engagement, including volunteerism, among our officers is remarkable and is essential to building relationships and communication with citizens, which results in greater trust and reduces likelihood of abuse. This is what really sets Sandpoint Police apart from other departments around the country, and for this we should support and celebrate our trained officers.

In stark contrast, we are witnessing a rise in vigilantism. Let me be clear about my terms here: “vigilante” is defined as “a member of a self-appointed group of citizens who undertake law enforcement in their community without legal authority.” There is a difference between responsible gun ownership and vigilantism. While the vast majority of Idahoans are responsible gun owners, the group of 50 that occupied downtown Sandpoint on Tuesday, June 4, were there, by definition, as vigilantes.

Perhaps none of these vigilantes had police training, let alone training in de-escalation techniques or mental health disorders. None were accountable to voters, elected officials or a qualified, legal chain of command like a police chief. They were not publicly sworn to a code of conduct to uphold the law and protect the public welfare, nor do they have the legal authority to enforce the law. These are a few important distinctions between your highly qualified police force and, well, anybody with an assault rifle.

Vigilantes are different from militia. Militia are, by definition, sanctioned and called into service by the governor under Title 46 in Idaho state statutes. Governor Little has not called into service any militia in North Idaho, and therefore, the armed vigilantes you see on the street are not sanctioned militia.

It may seem like the protesters, the police and the vigilantes are at odds with each other. However, there are values that they all share. They all care about their community. They all care about the law and want to live in a lawful society. This includes public safety, liberty and justice. Let us remember that we all love our community and we all want a safe, lawful and just place to call home.

Please join me for the Mayor’s Roundtable to discuss all this and more this Friday, June 19, at 3 p.m. on Zoom:

You can also watch on Facebook Live through my page, Mayor Shelby Rognstad.

Shelby Rognstad is the mayor of Sandpoint. He can be reached at mayor@sandpointidaho.gov.