PENDLETON — Barely a day after back-to-back mass shootings rocked the nation, police in Hermiston on Aug. 5 were tracking down who shot and injured two teen boys.
Pendleton police three days later were chasing their own shooting suspect, who ended the pursuit when he shot himself in the head.
The East Oregonian and its sister publications in Eastern Oregon reached out to police chiefs, sheriffs, lawmakers, mental health care providers, school officials and others to ask them to give their ideas for curbing gun violence. We asked them to provide no more than a few hundred words and to stay away from culture issues of violence or legal issues of gun rights.
Not everyone we asked participated. In some cases we accommodated sources who preferred short interviews. We primarily edited responses for length and clarity.
What follows are their ideas.
Clinical director for New Directions Northwest Inc.
One possible idea to help curb gun violence across the country could be to focus on and provide more education and prevention measures around the “driving forces” that true research would identify. Education and prevention strategies then need to be developed to specifically touch all age levels and cultures that have blended together within our great nation.
As an immediate intervention, New Directions Northwest Inc., which provides mental health services in Baker County, used a grant focused on suicide prevention to purchase gun trigger locks. New Directions offers these devices at no cost to any individual or family throughout Baker County.
The prevention program also is working with other local communities throughout the county to identify locations to provide access to the free gun trigger locks.
State Rep. R-Heppner
Rather than passing additional gun restrictions that end up punishing law-abiding citizens, I think it’s time we make a serious effort to address the growing mental health crisis in our communities. Earlier this year, I worked with Umatilla County Sheriff Terry Rowan, Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, and Rep. Greg Barreto, R-Cove, to secure $1.6 million in upgrades for the Umatilla County Jail, Pendleton. A portion of these upgrades will be used to ensure that violent criminals, including those suffering from mental illness, can get the treatment they need rather than being treated like ordinary offenders who might be returned to the public.
Investments like this are crucial to ensuring people get the help they need, while also saving taxpayers money in the long run as those receiving treatment are less likely to reoffend in the future.
Americans broadly agree that investing in mental health services is a worthwhile approach when it comes to addressing violence. A 2018 survey by Gallup found that 56% of Americans viewed bolstering mental health screenings and security as a better strategy for addressing violence in schools than passing new restrictions on gun and ammunition sales. This opinion is shared by Americans of all political stripes and shows that there is room for agreement when it comes to violence prevention policies.
Cove School District superintendent
Pettit said he believes one key to protecting a school from possible gun violence is having a school resource officer.
School resource officers are law enforcement officers who work in schools. The Cove School District is part of a consortium of school districts in Union County that share the cost and services of such as officer Tony Humphries, a deputy with the Union County Sheriff’s Office.
Humphries began serving as an school resource officer for the Cove, North Powder, Union and La Grande school districts during the 2018-19 school year and will continue doing so in 2019-20.
Pettit said Humphries’ presence is welcome because of the personal connections he makes.
“Tony Humphries is not a cop on patrol. He is developing relationships with students,’’ Pettit said. “He is bridging the natural gap that exists between students and adults in a school.’’
Pettit said this healthy relationship is making the Cove School District safer.
InterMountain Education Service District director of operations
Glaze of La Grande said a better approach to resolving disagreements is one key to curbing gun violence.
“We need to teach our children how to resolve conflict in a non-violent way,” said Glaze, who served as superintendent of the La Grande School District from 2008 to 2017 and has worked more than 40 years as an educator.
The education administrator said this has to start with schools and children’s families working hard to instill values and provide support and direction. He said parents should limit the time their children spend on their electronic devices doing things like playing violent video games and instead do healthy activities together.
“In the rush of life, moving from activity to the next, we forget to do things like having dinner together,” Glaze said.
Hermiston chief of police
Contrary to what people may see on television, police officers have very limited access to state or federal databases. Protections afforded via HIPAA compound matters even further, but local cops know what is going on in their communities. So, would it not make sense to create a process where police officers have the ability to complete a simple form with specific criteria and submit that form to flag a person’s criminal history record should they ever try to purchase a gun? A process much like that of the stalking order process.
By law, when a police officer believes a stalking order is warranted due to information known to the officer, the officer fills out a temporary order, provides both parties with a copy and a court date, and records/dispatch enter the order into the state system, which creates a flag on the person’s record. The court must hear the matter within 72 hours.
If the person receiving the complaint does not appear, the order is upheld as they were given ample opportunity for due process. If the person does appear, a judge must weigh in and decide.
In no way, shape, or form is this the solution to the much larger problem. This would only pertain to legal gun purchases, but at least it could be the first step in a process that engages all sides and gives some justification to the can that has been kicked for years, by elected officials. This state-approved process would allow officers to continue to take action within their community.
Society has empowered us as police officers, now let us protect.
The Observer and Baker City Herald contributed to this report.