In my 27 years of service to our community, I have never seen greater challenges than our officers are facing today.
This being said, our officers are not deterred and remain honored to serve in their chosen profession. The men and women who serve as your La Grande police officers are not only officers — they are friends, parents, neighbors, coaches and members of our community.
In June, The Observer requested “all documentation regarding formal and informal complaints against members of the La Grande Police Department over the past three years.” To maintain the trust and legitimacy that we enjoy within our community, it is very important that we are as transparent and open as possible within the laws governing these records, so I was pleased to provide the requested information.
As noted in The Observer article, “Addressing discontent” on July 14, 2020, over the course of the last three years, the La Grande Police Department received 11 citizen complaints. In that same period of time, our officers responded to calls for service or had contacts with community members a total of 39,729 times. Some may conclude that any complaint against a police officer is for excessive force.
To help understand the nature of the complaints we’ve received in the last three years, I will share a brief synopsis of each.
• A situation where an officer saw a person, waved and smiled. The person was unhappy, because they had previously asked the officer not to do that.
• A person was upset with the process an officer used during the course of an investigation.
• An officer did not communicate effectively during the course of an investigation.
• An officer showed a lack of empathy when issuing a citation.
• A person was unhappy that an allegation couldn’t be proven.
• One of our staff members was discourteous while off-duty in a public location.
• An officer did not provide all options that law allowed.
• A complaint from a community member that was unsubstantiated by others in the neighborhood, and the person was dissatisfied with the outcome.
• A complaint about communications an officer participated in while off-duty.
• A person asked an officer to do something they did not have the legal authority to do, and the person did not like the tone of the dialogue with the officer.
• The one complaint for use of force was when three officers responded to a call where someone armed with a weapon was threatening their own life, and officers tackled the person.
The truth is, our police officers are human beings with increasingly difficult jobs often performed in very stressful circumstances for all involved.
Even with our rigorous on-going training, up-to-date policies that reflect best practices, and the very best of intentions, there are instances where someone isn’t happy and they let us know. When they do, what happens next is representative of our commitment to professionalism and the pursuit of excellence. Our community absolutely deserves nothing less. We address every complaint, informal or formal, and take the appropriate action based on the circumstances. When mistakes are made, we learn from them, address the issue through training, policy change, or if necessary, take disciplinary action as appropriate.
I believe it is critically important that as a community we recognize there are unfortunately times when someone may not like the outcome of a contact with a police officer. However, that doesn’t mean the officer engaged in or is guilty of misconduct. Sometimes the police can (and should) do better, and sometimes the person in contact with the police can (and should) do better.
I will end by sharing one of the written expectations I have for my staff regarding customer service: “Our community has entrusted us and we owe it to them to keep that trust. I expect you to treat others the way you would want yourself or a member of your family to be treated.”
The people serving you at the La Grande Police Department care about our community, and we will continue to achieve our mission by adhering to our core values.
If anyone feels our officers aren’t meeting these expectations, I encourage them to let me know.