Opinion | Linda Harmon: Lies and solutions
Positive Progressive Thinking
We are living during unsettling times when 32% of the American people, according to a Monmouth poll, believe lies simply because their right-wing leaders have repeated these untruths daily. A perfect example is the frequently shouted assertion from our Summit County conservatives, who think all liberals hate law enforcement and would love to defund the police.
Summit County resident and brilliant Democratic State Rep. Julie McCluskie proved the opposite of this lie when she co-sponsored two of Colorado’s newest bills: HB21-1030 and HB21-1085. These bills provide statewide funding for law enforcement, public health agencies and social service providers as alternatives to police responses. Additionally, they provide common sense counseling and trauma awareness training for police as well as dedicated transportation services for individuals in crisis.
Two weeks ago, many Summit County liberals joined law enforcement officials at the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center to watch Gov. Jared Polis sign these two bills into law.
These bills supplement a statewide grant program that provides funding that allowed another high profile Summit County Democrat, Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, to create the cutting-edge Systemwide Mental Assessment Response Team. This innovative program provides a plain-clothed deputy and clinician to respond to mental health related calls, allowing Summit County law enforcement to avoid arrests or emergency room visits. These very difficult calls are where we often see unnecessary, escalated police activity and deaths.
This is not defunding our law enforcement departments. Instead, it supports them. Indeed, many of our dedicated community servants wholeheartedly support such programs and acknowledge that progressive-minded bills and initiatives are the solution.
Unfortunately, that is not the perspective of my conservative counterparts. Rather than commend our sheriff, who happens to be a Democrat, for his innovative and progressive handling of mental health related calls, they chose to continue their ongoing criticism of his approaches. They view this type of crisis management as soft and pantywaist. They say, “It’s not what real law enforcement looks like!”
The truth is Summit County residents should be very proud of our mountain community. The SMART program is in the process of being duplicated throughout the state and will probably be used as a model nationally for effective policing.
During the signing, Polis said, “Many communities don’t even have these kinds of programs like Summit County has.” He would like to model the success of the program and bring better support to communities that have much less to offer their law enforcement officers.
Unlike other counties across our state, Summit has historically had a very low number of officer-involved shootings. In a statement June 12, 2020, FitzSimons said, “In Summit County, over the past three decades, there have been three law-enforcement shootings, none resulting in death.”
This confirms the sensitive, well-thought-out nature of SMART. Kudos to both FitzSimons and the Democratic leadership for their plans to expand this program.
Law enforcement officers who might pull out guns during mental-crisis situations are not only creating dangerous and potentially deadly situations, they are also tearing communities apart. Time and time again, this approach has created only damage and anger.
Asking for common sense changes to law enforcement does not mean you hate law enforcement. Always pointing the finger saying, “It’s not a policing issue, it’s a mental health issue,” is ridiculous.
It is a police-training issue when you consistently have law enforcement officers who use excessive force with people in a mental health crisis, and we all know we have mental health issues throughout this country.
Encouraging everyday citizens to purchase military-style weapons and pressuring everyone to be a gun owner is also not the answer.
The answer is funding a program like SMART and passing McCluskie’s bills. Implementing these programs will allow officers to de-escalate situations and stabilize individuals without incarceration. The numbers prove it. According to data provided by the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, there has not been one arrest as a result of an offense related to a SMART call since the program began in 2020. This is the solution for Summit County and for the entire country.
Most American citizens agree, and they don’t believe the lie that Democrats want to defund law enforcement.
Linda Harmon’s column “Positive Progressive Thinking” publishes biweekly on Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Harmon is a former broadcast and print journalist who has been involved in Democratic Party politics since she was 18. She lives in Silverthorne. Contact her at email@example.com.
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