How can that be, you may ask, when Christopher Dorner could wrongly take the lives of innocent people and throw fear into the hearts of most southern California residents as he was on the lam? How could Dorner generate supporters even though his manifesto threatened the lives of law enforcement personnel not only connected to the Los Angeles Police Department for which he worked, but to anyone remotely related to police personnel?
The tragic and scary tale ended last week when Dorner, whose ties to Utah included playing football at Southern Utah University in Cedar City, apparently shot himself as the cabin where he was holed up erupted in flames during a standoff with law enforcement agencies that had been on his trail for days.
The story is an interesting study that tugs at peoples’ compassion from many angles. Of course it brings compassion for the innocent bystanders who died as Dorner sought vigilante justice after feeling he was wronged by a corrupt police department. It brings compassion for entire communities in southern California who feared that Dorner might be in their midst. And it apparently brings compassion for the very man who started it all, as some people wonder how he could have been driven to commit these unconscionable acts out of his own pain and sense of being maligned. Dorner sought to cause grief and fear that would supersede his own, and raise awareness to issues for which he couldn’t get attention.
There is no question in my mind that Dorner’s actions were completely wrong. There is no justification for the method in which he sought justice. But I am convinced that Dorner’s pain – whether it was caused by legitimate harms done to him, or mental health issues, or perhaps corruption in a monumental municipal machine – was great enough for him to act out in the manner in which he did.
I have a healthy respect for police on all levels. In fact, I’m downright afraid of getting on the wrong side of the law. Sure, I’ve gotten my share of speeding tickets and I’ve had a fender bender or two. Once I had a crazy rental tenant who called the cops on me when I was trying to communicate with her. And the sheriff’s department was called on me after a man shot my dog and I was going a little, well, crazy. But as of this writing I haven’t ever been arrested.
Our society simply wouldn’t operate without being in complete chaos without police protection. But what can a society do to address allegations of wrongdoing by the law? I am encouraged to hear that allegations of corruption in the LAPD are being reexamined in the wake of this rampage.
The issue of law enforcement can be very sensitive even in small towns like Moab. Everyone seems to know everyone else’s business in small communities. Cynical thought would hold that the good old boys are in charge and that there’s no fighting city hall, right? I am not purporting that there are problems with local law enforcement or its judicial authorities, but if problems related to misuse of power arise, how can they be handled? Can they be handled? Can change occur if it is necessary?
Former and longtime Sheriff Jim Nyland, who served Grand County honorably and with his full heart for decades, might be able to answer some of those questions. After all, he sits on the Grand County Council now, overseeing a larger menu of issues than when he was sheriff. His transition out of law enforcement a few years ago was hastened by a small movement that called for new leadership and departmental reforms. With no term limits for sheriffs and police chiefs, those leaders can remain in office for very long times. Is this good, bad or both?
That election season was painful to watch. It was painful to see a deputy stick his neck out to run against Nyland, knowing that he might be blackballed by others on the force. It was painful to see Nyland’s management be questioned after so many dedicated years of his service. When Nyland decided to not run for reelection, after years of having no opponent on the ballot, his seasoned deputy Steve White stepped into the election and won it handily. And the other deputy who initially decided to run against the sheriff quit his job soon after the election and left Moab. There was no future here for one who had rocked the boat so violently.
My question is this: Can there be some public oversight ombudsman as concerns law enforcement that could help to prevent ill feelings from rising to the point that people lose their jobs or go off in a shooting spree? Perhaps we would end up with a better level of safety for community and cops alike. And on a completely personal level, do my words on these sensitive topics mean that I may be seeing an increased chance of red lights in my rearview mirror?