It all started with a cardboard sign.
Retired police officer Ray Clever has been sitting on the stage during the Orcas Farmer’s Market, next to a homemade sign inviting people to speak with him about the relationship between police and the public. The story was covered by regional news stations, and it illuminated the need for more opportunities to speak with law enforcement.
Orcas resident Donna Laslo and the Islands’ Sounder coordinated a panel discussion with Clever, San Juan County Sheriff Ronald Krebs, Sergeant Herb Crowe, retired Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper and documentarian Heather Dew Oaksen at Sea View Theater on Thursday, Aug. 11. The event was organized to help bridge the gap between the police and the public.
“That’s actually half of the equation as to why I couldn’t stay home anymore,” said Clever, explaining that the recent videos of officers killing civilians in places like Minnesota, Maryland and Florida has exacerbated the “us vs. them” mentality.
Around 25 islanders came to the forum, which was structured as more of a conversation and less of a Q&A so officers and audience members could share their experiences. Clever and Stamper said the recent turbulence in other areas could be an opportunity to have a better police/community relationship in the San Juans.
“We all know a tremendous amount of the people we serve,” said Krebs. “We have the ability to get out of the car and meet people.”
Though some audience members felt that the police in the islands were not affable, Crowe said that local police feel very connected to the community.
“All the experienced deputies we have here are very community oriented,” said Crowe. “We are the most approachable crew of guys you’ll ever meet.”
The conversation focused heavily on the relationship between the police and the community they serve, and what can be done to foster a positive relationship between the two groups.
“How are we teaching empathy to cops?” asked Stamper. “Being a good cop is in part a performance art.”
Empathy was a common theme throughout the evening’s discussion. Stamper said compassion is a much-needed skill among law enforcement, and the wife of an active duty deputy said the public should also remember to be empathetic toward officers and their families.
“When you hate him, you hate me, you hate my kids,” said Marla Johns, wife of San Juan County Deputy Steve Johns.
“The whole notion of fear is critical, and often left out of the equation,” said Stamper. “A great influence in the division between the police and the public is fear of one another. We owe it to our cops to provide the very best shoot/don’t shoot simulations.”
Laslo told the audience, “I think it’s up to each one of us to all work together.”