SIDNEY — Local reaction to the killing in Dallas, Thursday, of five police officers was one of sadness, shock and resolve that the nation has to come together to prevent more tragedies.
Flags in Shelby County have been lowered to half staff and police and sheriff’s deputies are wearing black ribbons over badges for the next week.
Five police officers were killed by gunfire and seven officers and two civilians were wounded in Dallas, Thursday night, at a protest march prompted by the shootings by police of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota. Dallas police killed one suspected perpetatrator with a robot-delivered bomb.
In Ballwin, Missouri, a driver shot and wounded a police officer during a traffic stop, Friday morning. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar didn’t disclose many details about the confrontation, including the race of the suspect or officer.
Shelby County-based law enforcement leaders discussed the Dallas shootings with the Sidney Daily News, Friday.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the men and women of the Dallas Police Department and Dallas Area Rapid Transit Police and the families and friends of the fallen officers and those injured,” said Sidney Police Chief Will Balling Friday. “The officers in Dallas were acting as guardians and protecting the protestors.”
“I’m saddened at the loss of anyone, law enforcement or anyone else, when they’re assassinated or killed in that fashion,” Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart said. “When you assassinate someone, that’s intentional. You have to think about it. An assault in Dallas is an assault anywhere in America.”
Both leaders deplored the divisive social climate in the United States that has resulted in such shootings.
“I don’t know that the country has ever been more divided,” Lenhart said. “I don’t know what it was like during the Civil War. But I think we can come out of this.”
It will take a coming together of all sides, the men said, a halting of the us-against-them attitude that seems to prevail.
Community policing is part of the answer, Lenhart said.
“Policing has to look like the community,” he added.
“It just has to stop nationwide. I’ve never felt this way — the horrific shootings, the terrific tragedies are something we’re going to have to live with for a long time,” Balling said.
Attempts to reach local black pastors for comment were unsuccessful. But Douglas Leslie, who recently opened a program to teach boys responsibility, says the real problem is sin.
“You can’t fight spiritual battles with worldly weapons. We’ll lose every time,” Leslie said. “The world keeps trying to figure out the remedies to these shootings. It’s not black on white or white on black or black on black or anything. It’s the sin within us. Whether you’re black or whether you’re white, if you’re breaking the law and the police feel threatened, he has every right in the world to do what he has to do.”
The two local officers acknowledged that law enforcement is not without blame.
“In all professions there are knuckleheads,” Lenhart said.
“We understand that there are instances that we could do better and that there are a few individuals in our profession that should not be there,” Balling said. “There is always room for improvement and we will strive to provide you the best service that we can. This senseless violence has to stop and we need your support to end these types of events.
“Most officers I know love this job and will do anything for the community that they serve. I feel very fortunate to work in Shelby County and in the city of Sidney. We have hard working citizens in our community that help each other and help take care of anyone in need. While we have a very good relationship with most citizens, there is always more that we can do to come together during this critical time. Rather than letting this tragedy divide us, this is a time for us to come together as a community and share our grief and look for solutions,” Balling added.
Lenhart thinks parents need to take responsibility for teaching their children right from wrong.
“If I got in trouble (at school), when I went home, there was a price to pay and it wasn’t suing the teacher,” he said. “When did police and teachers become the bad guys? Men and women have to give people in authority the benefit of the doubt.” He noted that in the current environment of division, it’s difficult to recruit good officers.
“Who wants to go into this? You don’t get the best of the best,” he said. In addition, departments are stretched thin because hundreds of officers were laid off during the great recession and forces have not been reinstated.
“Our budget is the same as it was in 2001,” Lenhart said.
Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart talks about the meaning of a black ribbon over his badge at the American Legion Friday, July 8.
Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News