Locally, our police value everyone; give respect to all

For Terrebonne Parish deputies responding to a report of a man with a gun and an allegation of domestic violence last week, the initial realization that the facts called in were confirmed had to be heart-dropping.

Lots of people call 911 every day for situations that involve people who may have committed a crime or looked like they were and then disappeared. Other calls, like the Westside Boulevard case that resulted in a 7-hour standoff, involve the immediate potential for injury or loss of life. Professional law enforcement officers, as experts in the field have long made us aware, end up in some of these situations not just having to fear for their own lives but the lives of the very people perpetrating the crimes.

The Westside case got some extra attention from us because the police presence was so visible to so many people, as indicated by various social networking posts. In this issue we chose to share a lot of details about a type of case that is more prevalent than people might think. We did this because the case, which fortunately resulted in all the police officers getting to go home and the suspect safely transported to a hospital without physical injury, is not newsworthy in and of itself. But the current climate of scrutiny on law enforcement makes it so.

As Sheriff Jerry Larpenter points out, the perpetrator is largely in control of whether a situation ends up as a textbook case for good police procedure, or a high-profile tragedy that causes – sometimes fairly and sometimes not – harsh criticism of police practices and procedures, as well as the specific management of the case at hand.

There are a dozen different reasons why deadly force could have been required in this case, all matters of timing and discretion. It is the culture of the individual police department that comes into play here, the expectations of supervisors, the advice from long-serving members of a department, the rules that are both written and unwritten.

The expectation in Terrebonne Parish – and from the looks of things, surrounding parishes as well – is that life is sacred and must not, shall not be taken unless it is clearly necessary to do so.

There is an academic component to police departments that allow deadly force use based on a subjective standard that permits it even if it is not necessary. That standard is legal, and is one of the reasons why in some places people have taken to the streets, because they feel they have no alternative.

It is very clear what supervisors and law enforcement executives in the Bayou Region are expecting from their officers, which is accountability that goes beyond the question of what is allowed but also what is right.

We have had situations, sadly, where law enforcement has been required to take lives. One case, that involving the tragic death of a Houma teen who was – from all credible accounts – displaying a replica pistol in a manner that an officer said gave him no choice. The Louisiana State Police agreed as did a Terrebonne Parish grand jury. There is litigation for money damages ongoing in that case. But the standard in play for the civil courts is very different from the standard in the criminal determination.

In another case a man on Woodlawn Ranch Road, after a chase, refused to lower his weapon causing officers from several departments to fire after multiple warnings were ignored.

The teen, Cameron Tillman, was black – as is Jerome Amacker, the man who held himself hostage last week.

Jean Paul Falgout, the man who was killed on Woodlawn Ranch Road in 2015, was white.

The record appears to show that in many cases over the past two years, restraint has ruled, as it should if using it doesn’t unnecessarily jeopardize officers.

The record also appears to show, as evinced on Westside Boulevard last week, that in the Bayou Region all lives matter. We have faith, given the track record of law enforcement, that this will continue to be the case. For now, we find that it is faith well-placed.