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Law enforcement situations get edgy
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Even in cozy Warren County, tension can be high and gunfire can erupt when law enforcement officers are doing their job.
Our own sheriff was shot in the line of duty back in the days when he was a city police officer.
A deputy was injured last year during a high-speed chase when his vehicle was rammed and it rolled several times.
And our chief of police said he was probably assaulted, by the legal definition of the term, every day he worked as a city patrolman.
“I was a patrolman for 17 years and I can safely say there wasn’t a day that went by without being assaulted, in the pure technical definition of assault, while I was on the job,” said Bryan Denton, McMinnville’s chief of police.
In addition to being shot in the arm, Sheriff Jackie Matheny said shots were fired at him on two other occasions, but missed.
“The night after I returned to duty after being shot, I mean the very next night, I pulled over a lady and she reached for a 32-caliber in her glove compartment,” said Matheny in illustrating the dangers of being a law enforcement officer.
Those dangers have reached a boiling point after two African American men were shot and killed last week in Baton Rouge, La., and St. Paul, Minn.
Those two cases of police violence against citizens were followed by a sniper in Dallas killing five police officers and wounding nine others before he was killed by a police bomb.
In Warren County last week, law enforcement officers chased a suspect through two counties in a large box truck before finally getting him to pull over. When the man exited his truck, he came out ready to swing with a baseball bat and was tased.
Despite these violent situations, Matheny said community relations between officers and citizens are, for the most part, strong in Warren County. If not, he says there are usually underlying causes.
“Most of the time they are intoxicated, high, or have some kind of mental disorder,” Matheny said regarding those who resist arrest or threaten police officers. “Sometimes it’s just that they don’t want to go to jail.”
Matheny said he’s seen a number of local situations resolve themselves over the years without injury, even though officers would have been well within their rights to use deadly force.
“I’ve seen officers exercise extreme restraint over the years in situations that could have turned deadly,” Matheny said.
Denton said the use of tasers and other non-lethal tools have helped lawmen avoid using deadly force.
“We are better equipped technologically today,” Denton said. “Sometimes you can just mention using your taser and things will calm down.”
Denton said McMinnville police have not had to use deadly force for about two decades, the last time being the shooting of a man who had fired on police after barricading himself in a garage behind his home.
However, police officers have been injured since that time, with most of the work-related injuries coming in fights while trying to subdue suspects. Two officers were stabbed while trying to take a mentally disturbed man into custody about 15 years ago, Denton recalled.
Denton agreed with Matheny on relationships here between the public and law enforcement.
“We really work at it,” Denton said of public and race relations. “We are really fortunate here.”
Denton said any reports of overuse of police force are taken seriously by the department which has an internal affairs division to investigate such claims. There have been disciplinary actions taken in the past against officers, but Denton said such occurrences, as well as public complaints, are very rare.