They are two people that allegedly got physical with one another, and by our guess, if they were living in a nice Timberhill neighborhood, you probably wouldn’t have heard about it. However, these individuals don’t live in such a neighborhood – they’re reportedly unhoused – and in this instance, that appears to have made a difference in how law enforcement publicly responded.
On April 5, the Corvallis police posted photos of the duo, whose names we’re omitting from this editorial, on the department’s Facebook page, writing, “We received reports of them fighting in public, blocking traffic, or trespassing several times, causing quite a disruption in our community.” The post went on to say the department had issued citations in the matter.
The ensuing public pillory was, of course, predictable. For instance, one commenter referred to the duo as “douchebags,” and suggested throwing them in the river, while another suggested pepper spraying or tasering them. It was the sort of public foment you would hope a peace officer would work to de-escalate rather than elicit or condone. Heartrendingly, there were commenters on the post that challenged this tactic, and some went as far as suggesting other ways CPD could have handled the situation.
Clinically, the police response seems the opposite of trauma-informed, rendering a sadly predictable outcome, as CPD admits in the same post that they intervened with the couple on differing occasions over a 5 day period.
We reached out to the Corvallis Police Department: Thinking there may be more to the story, one of our staff contacted CPD to ask, in frank terms, why the post? What was the public safety imperative? After 24 hours, the police department hadn’t responded, and on April 8 we published a story detailing what happened.
After we posted the story to our website, the police added to their original post, offering a little more detail about the actual citations issued, but also writing, “Thank you to our community members who recognize we are working to address criminal behaviors that affect livability in Corvallis; we need your help by being willing to have constructive conversations about how we can make Corvallis a safer place to live for all our community members.”
The department’s update of the post, however, did little to confront the predictable public pillory of the individuals. Though, it did pose some new questions, like, what constructive conversation are they referring to? CPD has been unwilling to answer questions about this post, and has done nothing to moderate the social media dogpile of negativity that the post generated.
We’ve been longstanding police supporters, but we have to be fair: This newspaper has always endorsed a yes vote on public safety measures that fund added law enforcement – and our reporting has debunked a fair share of social media onslaughts aimed at local police. But, our support of the police has always been based on the facts in front of us, and our view of what’s fair.
We want our police department to be the best it can be – and in this instance, we cannot escape the conclusion that they fell short, and that the most supportive thing we can do, is to encourage them to do better.
Corvallis police are better trained than before as concerns mental health issues, but given their lack of trauma informed thinking in this instance, we believe this education needs to continue and deepen.
We would also like to see the department reexamine its parameters for posting to social media, and we’d like to see a public process undertaken in that reexamination. We asked the department about who does what, and why, but they haven’t responded. We will also admit, that in our support of the department, we’ve sometimes turned a blind eye to their social media presence, we’ll commit here to keeping better tabs on it going forward.
Finally, our view that a just and safe society requires a venerated force of peace officers is longstanding. We also know that in a time of pandemic it could be tempting to minimalize the department’s flaws – but with a crisis upon us, we believe this would be the precise time at which we need the police to be at their best.