The sextuple whammy of lawsuits against members of the Sandy Police Department make apparent the fact that the city's law enforcement agency needs to work on its image.
Some locals have accused the department of being harassers, liars, thugs, racist against Hispanics - allegations that peaked in summer 2005 - and even murderers.
We may never know what happened in each of the cases related to the lawsuits that alleged police wrongdoing - those kinds of judgments should and will be left to the courts - but what we do know is that the department has a serious public relations problem in this city.
A big part of that is the fact that the department seems to be all business. The idea of the neighborhood cop is all but gone, and we feel that the Sandy Police Department must do more to become a community player, or it will continue to generate ill feelings, misunderstanding and perhaps more lawsuits.
The police should learn from their public safety colleagues at the Sandy Fire District. Local firefighters are always out in the community, whether it's showing up at a Good Morning Sandy event for the Chamber of Commerce, lending a hand to help move furniture out of a business, manning information booths at local events or fitting helmets for free on weekends. These people are extremely visible, and are well-loved and respected.
We proudly display our 'I (love) Sandy Fire' sticker on our door because that agency goes out of its way to show people it's a part of this community.
The police, however, don't put forth such an effort.
We can understand that the police department has fewer people and a growing demand, which could contribute to the employees just being 'all business.' But there has to be a conscious decision in the department that it must join the community in more than just a law enforcement capacity.
Chief Harold Skelton needs to make this a priority, and it doesn't even have to be that difficult. It could be as simple as having reserve (a.k.a. volunteer) police officers reading to children in the schools, in uniform. It could be having them man information booths at the Hometown Holiday Festival.
Of course, it would be ideal to have officers such as K.T. Taylor and Bill Bergin - the two officers specifically targeted in the recent lawsuits - out in the community in a non-enforcement capacity, so people can get to know them and realize they're more than just the people you run into before getting busted. They need to be indisputably friendly faces in the city.
Officers are often confined to their patrol cars, offices or behind the impersonal walls and Plexiglas at the police station. They don't get information out to the public in a timely manner (The Post finds that reports are often filed several weeks after incidents occur - and those are the 'simple' cases such as DUII and dog-at-large). And they aren't forthcoming with important information about cases; we tend to get much more information from the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office - which is based in Oregon City - than we do from our own neighborhood police force.
That's not the kind of open-door policy necessary to build trust and respect. Instead, it creates an atmosphere of secrecy and elitism, one that easily gives birth to conspiracy theories and shocking allegations.
Skelton needs to make community involvement and 'sunshine' operations his primary goal in the department to bring credibility and respect back to the Sandy Police Department. The face of the department has to change from one that's scowling and half-cloaked to one that smiles and is recognizable. Until the chief makes openness and community involvement (outside policing) a priority, the department will continue to struggle, as it is now.