Bullets and smiles are both effective weapons

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Maybe Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White started to say it during his press conference Friday.

Answering a media question about the hail of bullets from up to seven police officers returning fire from a fleeing suspect who refused to drop his weapon, White acknowledged the astonishing fact that nobody else in the large Fourth of July crowd was injured.

Accurately, he attributed it to excellent training for his troops. In a way he was saying that officers made their own luck. But the fact that nobody else was hit when lead from a handful of weapons screamed through the late-night air? What we think Chief White was starting to say, and we would second wholeheartedly: It was also a miracle.

Feeling like an earthquake’s aftershock, a standoff Sunday afternoon could easily have escalated into tragedy. Yet with the calm professionalism of a SWAT team comprised of Coeur d’Alene police officers and Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office personnel, with the CDA Fire Department on hand to help, shots were reportedly fired in a downtown apartment and nobody was hurt.

Maybe that wasn’t a miracle, but it also wasn’t likely an accidental outcome. Authorities exercised extreme patience and professionalism. After more than two hours, they were rewarded with the suspect being taken into custody with no real damage done. The public was again protected.

But all is not well. Two separate shootings over a holiday weekend tested local law enforcement, which rose to the challenges. The community as a whole, however, is unnerved. Are these incidents an anomaly or another dark harbinger of what’s in store because our community is growing so rapidly? Are the shootings just projections of two severely impaired individuals or the reflections of a society that is devolving toward hopelessness and hostility?

One of Chief White’s greatest strengths is bringing out the best in his team, emphasizing “serve” every bit as much as “protect.” Addressing the drop in crime, White wrote this for The Press last February:

“The shift in our policing culture from simply responding to calls for service to a focus on community policing and proactive engagement with our public, combined with the outstanding character and professionalism of our members, helped reduce crime in our community.”

That culture should be projected by all law enforcers as citizens scrutinize the activities and the body language of the people paid to protect and serve them.

The SWAT team’s weapons on display Sunday evening were impressive, but what’s needed now is also an arsenal of smiles, handshakes, a kind word or friendly gesture to peaceful people from the men and women carrying those weapons. That’s the best way to emphasize we’re all on the same side.

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