On July 7, five police officers in Dallas were shot and killed by a lone sniper who specifically targeted law enforcement during a peaceful protest.
A dozen more officers were injured during the shooting, as well as two civilians. This was the deadliest incident for law enforcement since Sept. 11 and police departments throughout the country are hurting.
Things are no different locally.
When King County Sheriff John Urquhart first learned about the shooting, he was at home eating dinner. The 40-year law enforcement veteran said his initial reaction to the unfolding news was one of horror. About 110-150 officers die in the line of duty each year but this was the first time Urquhart had heard of law enforcement being targeted in an organized, methodical and planned way.
“That’s something we haven’t faced before,” he said. “It’s very different.”
That same evening, Urquhart sent out a message to both commissioned and civilian staff in the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) about the shooting.
“We’re a big family,” he said about not just his office, but the law enforcement community as a whole and how they all have been affected.
Police Chief Kristi Wilson also took the time to address the shootings with the Redmond Police Department (RPD). She said she spent several days meeting with staff to acknowledge the pain and sorrow they are all feeling.
Wilson also reinforced the department’s commitment to their values and to the community.
“We will be smart, be safe and we will not allow fear to modify who we are and what we stand for as an organization,” she said. “We are committed to this community and that will not change.”
Urquhart also stressed the importance of their jobs with his staff. He told deputies that regardless of last week’s events, they must remain professional and understand that they have the majority of the community’s support.
For Sgt. Cindi West with KCSO, who has worked in law enforcement for 32 years, that support has waned a bit in recent years as there has been more controversy involving law enforcement in the news. She said when she has been working, she has received more verbal comments from members of the public who make it clear they do not support police.
While this may be the case, West said she also receives many verbal comments of support from the public when she has been out in public.
She said the actions of a few can overshadow the work of the rest of the law enforcement community. West knows that 99 percent of officers out there do a good job and sometimes the negative comments can take their toll.
In the wake of the Dallas shooting, local law enforcement agencies as well as departments across the country have seen an outpouring of support from their communities.
Wilson said at RPD, they have received emails, notes, flowers and desserts.
“It truly has been greatly appreciated by staff,” she said. “They are able to see firsthand the strength of community and the level of support we have in our community.”
Urquhart said he has also received emails of support and people have come into various precincts offering both condolences and support.
“A very nice reaction from the community,” he said.
Chris Barringer, who has been Urquhart’s chief of staff since December 2012 and completed police academy training in January, has also witnessed community support firsthand.
He said he was in a coffee shop at the start of a recent shift when he saw someone outside leave an envelope on a colleague’s squad car’s windshield. Barringer was initially concerned about the note but it ended up being a gift card and note thanking them for the work they do. In addition, he said people have brought cookies into their precinct.
Despite this show of support, last week’s shooting has also raised concerns of copycats, Barringer said.
He said when he learned about the events in Dallas, he called his brother, who is also a police officer, working in Oregon. Barringer’s brother was on duty at the time and had not heard what had happened yet.
“It hit home for the first time for me,” Barringer said.
West said the shooting was also a reminder that there is still more work to be done with the relationship between law enforcement and the black community.
She said law enforcement in Washington go through initial training at the academy and receive ongoing training on how to deal with people of different cultures and backgrounds.
Uquhart added that in his office, they are trained to recognize any personal implicit biases they may have and that they do not tolerate racially profiling people.
He said he does not blame any community for the actions of one person and asks that people do not blame his profession for the actions of few.
Orenthal Johnson, who owns The Lash & Wax Boutique in downtown Redmond, said while he has not had any issues with police personally, as a black man, he still feels fear around law enforcement.
“Yeah, I’m scared. I’m totally scared. Why wouldn’t I be?” he said.
Despite this fear, Johnson said violence against police is not the answer.
He said there needs to be better communication and outreach between police and the black community, especially in urban communities.
“We need open, positive dialogue in our communities so we can create positive change,” she said. “In challenging times, the community looks to us for calm and now is the time for us the continue to step forward and be leaders in the community.”
Wilson stressed the importance of police’s relationships within the community and the need to continue these connections.
She said one opportunity to work on those community-police relations is National Night out, which is Aug. 2.
“Police officers and community members working together to collaboratively resolve community issues and continue to build our sense of community,” Wilson said, “this is the core of who we are as police officers.”