Local police going too far? | Guest column

by Brandon B. Adams

Special the Sounder

I was intrigued to read the Islands’ Sounder recent story about the sheriff’s survey. My immediate reaction was that surely those on Orcas Island who gave poor marks to the police were NOT just referencing the incident on San Juan last Christmas.

In my own limited experience with the police here, I have been left with the unpleasant aftertaste that our officers are far too micro-managing for such a small rural community.  My friend who’s lived here for more than 30 years says she cannot remember ever noticing a visible police presence on Orcas before about seven years ago, and how nice it was to know there were police somewhere but to rarely encounter them.

Now I regularly see cop cars zooming down Lover’s Lane in front of our house at breakneck speed. It is also commonplace to see people pulled over in and around town with flashing lights. Have we all become worse drivers? Are there new quotas to be filled for pulling people over, or more aggressive training among officers?

Up until a couple of weeks ago, my observation of the overzealous Orcas police was from afar. But then one night my partner Analisa and I were strolling through town in the later evening and were stopped by an officer in an SUV. He asked what we were doing, where we were going and whether we were residents on the island.

This was an interrogation prompted by absolutely nothing except that we seemed to be the only people about. I am sure the officer was trying to ascertain if we were drug dealers or thieves. Still, I hardly think that two people admiring garden tools in Smith and Speed’s window should warrant such an invasion of personal privacy.

The officer could have interacted with us in such a different way. Rather than coming from the offensive, and questioning us as if it were not our absolute right to take a walk through our town, the officer could have said something like, “Excuse me, I hate to bother you, but I am driving around looking for suspicious activity. Since you are on foot, maybe you’ve noticed something?”

Instead, both my partner and I left the interaction feeling harassed, invaded and angry.

If the new sheriff wants to see change in public sentiment toward the police, he might heed the feedback I personally hear (and feel) that the police need to settle down, slow down, get out of their cars and actually walk or bike around town, stop micro-managing drivers and deal with their own enthusiasm and/or boredom in a more constructive way. Ultimately the police need to come from a relational attitude of being in service with citizens – not in power over citizens.

We have all recently read about how police officers have gone way too far in mainland small towns, wherein innocent civilians have been stripped of civil liberties and worse.

From my perspective, it is sad and alarming that that underlying assumption, which privileges police power/authority to be more important than civilian autonomy, seems to be increasing everywhere in America.

My own experience is that it has begun staining the islands as well. I hope that the new sheriff will turn the tide of it in San Juan County, and soon.

Brandon Adams lives in Eastsound.