Blaine County Sheriff Steve Harkins should have accepted the Ketchum City Council’s invitation to appear at a public meeting to discuss local policing protocols.
Harkins is an elected public official. His deputies enforce laws in the county and in Ketchum under a contract with the city. As the face of local law enforcement, Harkins is obligated to communicate with the public beyond the one-way-street of electronic social media.
The May 25 killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minn., sparked riots nationwide. The public began to ask how police are trained and how they work, specifically in minority communities. How policing might be changed became a hot topic.
Instead of embracing a teachable moment, Harkins said he would meet only in private. He rejected an opportunity to strengthen ties with the community, which includes the 22 percent of county residents who are Hispanic. The rejection bolstered a stereotypical image of police who may question others, but may not be questioned.
If the sheriff had spoken in public, he could have talked about policing challenges in a mountain resort area with thousands of visitors, talked about the Blaine County jail and addressed any public concerns. He could have talked about officer training and his department’s needs.
Some questions may have made him uncomfortable. But so what?
If Floyd’s death proved anything, it was that police must not operate in a bubble. The sheriff needs to get out of his bubble and do his job by talking with the people he serves.