Hold officers to a higher standard

Police departments have important jobs, enforcing self regulation no longer sufficient in today’s climate



Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins addresses the actions of former Sgt. Jerry Daniel Hargraves on Thursday at the Pullman Police Department. Jenkins spoke about how the thin blue line represents “the protection [officers] provide the community.”

ALEX BIVIANO, Evergreen columnist

Law enforcement serves a necessary and irreplaceable purpose, but officers must be held accountable just like every other profession. Officers and their families accept a high degree of personal risk to protect their communities, but they aren’t above the laws they’ve sworn to enforce.

Police departments are often seen as having an unbreakable bond. Officers often have each other’s backs no matter the circumstances or level of wrongdoing by their peers. For many departments, this is the reality they have created: a fortress of information where misconduct is treated as part of the job and is hidden from the public eye.

The code of conduct for police officers is sometimes referred to as the thin blue line. This code has a different definition for almost every member of the law enforcement community, but one underlying point remains consistent for everyone in the Pullman community: to protect your fellow officers’ lives with as much regard as your own.

In Pullman, the two police departments students see the most are Pullman PD and WSU PD, and between these two departments the thin blue line has different definitions.

Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins said the thin blue line represents “the protection [officers] provide the community.”

Steve Hansen, WSU Police assistant chief, had a different view. He said the thin blue line represents the law enforcement community itself.

The primary objective of a police department is to protect and serve. This mantra is even printed on many squad cars to reinforce the message for all citizens. Many departments have muddled versions of this when they become too concerned with department image and compromise justice for the citizens who rely on them.

Between 2005 and 2017 there were 80 officers arrested on murder or manslaughter charges with just a 35 percent conviction rate, according to research by Philip Stinson, an associate professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University.

Stinson’s research compounds the fact that an estimated 1,000 police shootings take place each year and the vast majority of officers will never have to face criminal consequences.

While some officers were lawfully acquitted, others should have been put away, but a strong pushback from the police department makes a conviction harder to obtain, such as in the 2014 Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.

While it is always harder to put a friend and colleague away than it is a criminal found on the street, it is still law enforcement’s job to enforce laws fairly. In order to properly process misconduct and criminal activity by police officers, an impartial investigation must take place.

Officers must prioritize citizens’ health and safety over their colleague’s reputation. At WSU PD, Hansen is confident his department members have their heads in the right place.

“If our guys knew someone was doing something inappropriate or something, they would let somebody know,” Hansen said.

Keeping fellow law enforcement officials on track is a great step in properly finding justice, but in order to effectively execute an impartial investigation, a third party must have control. While law enforcement agencies do a good job performing these investigations, there is not always the staff needed to thoroughly perform the investigation.

A third party from a fellow law enforcement agency may not be as completely impartial as it claims. People in law enforcement are likely to have an implicit bias in favor of their colleagues even if they are from a different agency.

This is why an oversight committee must be put in place so that incidents of misconduct are responded to correctly and promptly without short-staffing a separate agency.

Law enforcement may have a problem with an outside committee controlling oversight because they may be uncomfortable with input from outside of their community.

Jenkins fears that Washington Initiative 940, which was on the ballot this year, may impede some officers’ ability to do their jobs.

“I think there is a potential to have a chilling effect on law enforcement,” Jenkins said. “In some cases law enforcement may be less inclined to put themselves in a situation where they use deadly force for their own health.”

While limiting lethal force is a priority, training must accompany it. As a department, Pullman has made the transition to 30 mm shotguns, which are more accurate and less likely to cause serious harm than the bean bag guns many departments use in “less lethal” situations.

Self-policing departments work for some agencies but not all. While Jenkins should be applauded for his efforts, Pullman PD should not be left unchecked, even though it is currently in good hands.

Recently Jerry Daniel “Dan” Hargraves, a former Pullman PD sergeant, was charged with first-degree custodial sexual misconduct for having sex with a detained WSU student after he and an unnamed WSU PD officer, who was cleared of misconduct following the investigation, were accused of wrongdoing.

While the alleged act itself was heinous, both Pullman PD and WSU PD handled the incident with class and due process. Washington State Patrol performed the investigation as an impartial third party.

When the allegation was brought to the Jenkins’ attention, he called for a third-party investigation into the alleged misconduct. During the investigation, all officers involved were removed from the field and placed on desk duty until the investigation concluded, according to previous reporting from The Daily Evergreen.

Misconduct is bound to happen in every profession, but law enforcement is too important for any misconduct to go unpunished. By empowering prudent leaders, police departments in Pullman are headed in the right direction.

WSU PD officers use body cameras in the field. These show how an officer views a situation and provides much-needed transparency when used properly.

Police departments can help improve public relations by increasing transparency and demonstrating positive visibility like both Pullman PD and WSU PD do. When law enforcement keeps the goal of public safety as the top priority, it makes communities safer and more trustworthy places to live.