John Bishop, OSSA Executive Director & Curry County Sheriff
April, 2016 — This year started with a roar. The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge issue was complex, to say the least. It brought out strong feelings from citizens on both sides. It tested sheriffs and law enforcement as a whole. It brought an influx of passionate individuals from outside the state who were interested in starting a firestorm. With no immediate, clear, legal resolution, the situation was bound to be lengthy and difficult. And what was normally a very peaceful community became a battleground, complete with across the-nation coverage.
I’d say sheriffs sympathized with, agreed on, and even supported some of the issues the protesters brought into the public’s view. Some of the root issues need discussion and change. However, it was the manner in which the issues were protested that drew the hard and fast line between law enforcement and the occupiers. Under no circumstances is it tolerable for anyone, to include elected officials, to advocate through threats of violence or acts of violence against any citizen of the United States.
The sheriffs in Oregon pledge to our citizens to be “Conservators of the Peace,” while being respectful of the rights given to all of us under the Constitution. We’ve heard some disagreement in what the Constitution says our role is in keeping that peace. The three branches of our Government—Judicial, Legislative, and Executive—need to work hand in hand. The Legislative branch makes the laws, the Judicial branch interprets the laws, and the Executive branch (sheriffs) enforces the laws. We impartially enforce the laws and simply cannot pick and choose which laws we enforce.
As United States citizens, we have the ability and a process for changing these laws. We also have the ability to change those who represent us in making these laws. You have a voice and the power of the vote: Use it! Don’t elect federal and state representatives who have destroyed the faith in government. If you are disappointed or mad at the decisions they have made, tell them. This is how you start to make changes and build momentum for a cause, not through violence or threats. Our great country affords us the opportunity to express our opinions, lobby for change, protest and live free from fear of retaliation from the government. Veterans fight for these rights: Honor them. Law enforcement protects your rights: Support them.
The collaborative response in Harney County showed us that the work law enforcement puts into training and building relationships in Oregon works. Everyone involved in this incident marveled at how well the state, county, and city law enforcement officials came together and worked in partnership, to care for and protect a small community with few resources. The residents had their lives turned upside down. As soon as Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward asked for help, numerous sheriffs jumped into action. The State Police and city police chiefs also came willing to assist in this long, protracted event. The partnership and teamwork were flawless! Everyone worked together during long hours in freezing conditions to make sure the local residents were safe, and Oregonians should all be proud of that. This starts with the way we train our law enforcement. Oregon is a state where all law enforcement officers (state, county and city) go through the training academy together, making our training standardized throughout the state. This training also builds relationships that new officers will take with them in their careers. The Department of Public Safety Standards and Training has done an outstanding job in developing this model and are a huge partner in the law enforcement community.
We have some frustrations, but we continue to work together on a very complex issue that is far from being resolved. At some point, Washington D.C. will have to address their management of federal lands, especially in the western part of the United States. Citizens have raised their voices. Please remember, as much as we may disagree with policies, there is a way to change it, but it is not through violence.