The deaths of two African-American men at the hands of members of law enforcement in Baton Rouge, La. and Falcon Heights, Minn. led to protests across the nation. In one protest in Dallas, Texas, 12 police officers were shot by a sniper; five were killed.
Morrison County Sheriff Shawn Larsen said the Dallas shooting hit him hard.
“Ultimately, even if we’re wearing different patches on our shoulders, we have the same job. What affects one department, affects other departments whether we’re 50 miles apart or 2,000 miles apart,” Larsen said. “In this last case in Dallas, when all these officers suffered, we truly suffered too.”
Larsen said while the vast majority of Morrison County residents support them, attacks like the one in Dallas have led to officers being more vigilant for anyone who might try to ambush or attack them.
One of the issues brought up with the incidents in recent years has been accusations of racial profiling by law enforcement. Larsen said law enforcement profiles behavior, not race or other factors.
“It’s possible it may arise in certain officers’ minds. I don’t know. But ultimately, for law enforcement here in Morrison County, our motto is to enforce the laws in a fair and impartial manner,” Larsen said.
Larsen said no one knows all the facts of the cases. He said he would like to see people wait for the results of the investigations, before making judgments.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it would be nice to let the criminal justice system run its course,” Larsen said
Many interactions with law enforcement are now filmed by anyone with a camera phone and can be disseminated very quickly.
Larsen said the problem with cellphone video is that people can now record part of a situation and pass it along without getting the whole story. This could lead people to make decisions without all the facts, Larsen said.
“Cellphone footage can play a good role though when it comes to evidence,” Larsen said.
Officers in Morrison County train monthly on scenarios they can run into. One of these training situations is where officers do traffic stops with armed drivers who may either cooperate or resist arrest.
Because there is no such thing as a “routine traffic stop,” Larsen said a situation can change rapidly. Officers are trained so they won’t be surprised if it does. For people in the community with concealed carry permits, Larsen recommends they tell officers this right away, even though they are not required to do so unless asked by the police under Minnesota law.
“If there’s sudden movements or some type of a behavior and we’re keened in and then we find a weapon that was never disclosed, that obviously puts us at a heightened awareness,” Larsen said. Then, the sheriff recommends they tell officers before they reach for anything and wait for approval from the officer.
He also said people should listen to law enforcement during interactions with them and to not fight them.
“If you want to make a complaint after everything’s done and over with, that’s fine. But to fight with an officer on a traffic stop is just going to make things worse,” Larsen said.
Attacks like the one in Dallas leave a huge emotional impact on law enforcement in Morrison County, Larsen said.
“To see five officers who were killed in the line of duty, it was a very emotional process,” Larsen said. “We know the Dallas Police Department is mourning. We’re mourning with them.”
Larsen said law enforcement officers need to have the trust of citizens to do their jobs and get through these situations. Overall, he said the situation in Morrison County is very good.
“Here locally, I know we have a great community. The overwhelming majority of the community supports us, and we’re all happy to be serving a great community like ours,” Larsen said.