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Don’t overlook law enforcement’s vital role

| June 14, 2020 1:00 AM

It is an understatement to say it’s a volatile time for law enforcement officers right now. Triggered by the May 25 officer-involved killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, widespread outrage and protests have continued, including calls for substantive police reform legislation that increases law enforcement accountability, tracks police misconduct and even makes changes in the techniques officers are able to use in restraining suspects. There’s an audible cry for reform that addresses racial profiling.

In a perfect world politicians on both sides of the aisle would be working on such comprehensive reform, but don’t hold your breath waiting for meaningful legislation any time soon, especially in an election year.

During a roundtable with law enforcement in Dallas, President Trump last week indicated he is finalizing an executive order focused on police reform that “will encourage police departments nationwide to meet the most current professional standards for the use of force, including tactics for de-escalation.” The president also is encouraging pilot programs that would allow social workers to work alongside officers in certain cases.

It’s easy to agree that something should be done in the way of police reform, but not so easy to articulate exactly what that change should be.

While officers nationwide are under the microscope more than ever, let’s not forget that our law enforcement officers here in Flathead County — just like officers everywhere — put their lives on the line every time they’re on duty.

On Tuesday local law enforcement officers pursued a homicide suspect in a high-speed chase that ended near Woods Bay with the suspect shooting at officers before he was killed by officers returning gunfire. Photos taken at the scene show bullet holes in law enforcement vehicles. “We were inches away from reporting an officer had been killed,” Sheriff Brian Heino noted afterward. He pointed out that Tuesday’s deadly shootout was the second time in just over two weeks Flathead County deputies have been fired upon by suspects.

On May 24 deputies shot and killed a Kila man after he shot at officers during a standoff. Both of these incidents are still under investigation, and it certainly sheds light on what officers are up against.

“Our deputies go out every day and put their life on the line for our community,” Heino commented. “We are honored to do it and we will continue to do so every day. We will not falter. We will not fail our community. We will stay the course.”

This kind of commitment is something we can be proud of here in the Flathead.

The national conversation for police reform is warranted, but don’t let it overshadow the life-saving work officers here and everywhere perform day in and day out. We’re grateful for their protection.