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Coffee with a cop road to open dialogue

English Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said, “In formal logic, a contradiction is the signal of defeat, but in the evolution of real knowledge it marks the first step towards a victory.”

Last week’s guest opinion by Nizar Ajanovic, (“Debate should have preceded cop event on campus”) profoundly demonstrated a success in the FGPD’s effort to bring police officers and University students together to have a conversation. We would never have otherwise learned of Mr. Ajanovic and his view that police should not have been on campus. The contradiction however is best revealed in a quote by Frederick Douglas: “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.”

Officers inviting students to join them in conversation over coffee is one of the purest expressions of humility and freedom. With the list of injustices at the hands of police referenced in the guest opinion, we feel there has never been a better time to break down the barriers of mistrust and promote open and transparent communication between police officers and students in our community. Any effort to the contrary could not possibly be in anyone’s best interest and yet the paradox that we must first debate before we have a conversation was suggested.

We would have very much enjoyed the opportunity for Mr. Ajanovic to have joined our officers at this event. He may have learned some interesting information about our internal diversity and our commitment to service. Forest Grove officers are interwoven into this community. We are everything from local residents and athletic coaches to committee members and public advocates for citizens with intellectual and physical disabilities. Some are even Pacific University Alumni.

Truth be told, Pacific University and its students are loved by Forest Grove Police Department personnel. We are committed to delivering the best possible services to the university and students. 

Shadowed by the recent tragedy at the University of Texas, we want to reach out to our University students in feeling comfortable talking to our officers about their safety and any concerns they have in preventing such a tragedy. They must know that if such an incident or other malady were to occur on the grounds of Pacific University, the FGPD would spare no resources and take every action necessary to protect the lives of the students and staff.

Our desire would be that we continue our outreach efforts with all members of our community without first forcing a debate or community discussion.

Mr. Ajanovic wrote that police officers should be the first to stand in solidarity with students and people with color. Must we have a community meeting or debate before doing so? When has the opportunity for learning and development ever been excluded from a University in the United States to a positive end?

We hope that one day more citizens will not judge a police officer by their uniform, the badge they wear, or the job that have taken an oath to do.  Hopefully they will join with us in our outreach efforts and get a glimpse of our character, instead of painting us under the broad brush of “systemic discrimination and rampant abuse of power with impunity” referenced in the guest opinion.

Are we perfect? Of course not! But we strive to be the model for other agencies to follow and we want to be better. That is the purest example of the human condition. We extend our hand to every citizen in our community — to join us in the conversation. The coffee is on us.

Captain Mike Herb is a 26-year veteran of the Forest Grove Police Department and oversees the department’s outreach efforts and community communications as FGPD’s public information officer.