Police chief takes appropriate action

The transient population in Grand Junction is, and long has been, a problem that the community has attempted to address in a variety of ways.

But the solution absolutely won’t be found in local police officers acting like Depression-era goons in “The Grapes of Wrath,” raiding and ransacking transient camps and destroying the property of individuals.

Police Chief John Camper recognized that fact and did the right thing in firing three police officers involved in an attack last month on a transient camp near the confluence of the Gunnison and Colorado Rivers.

It was no doubt a difficult decision for Camper to fire the officers. Since he took the helm of the Grand Junction Police Department last September, Camper has had to deal with a number of police discipline issues.

But Camper made it clear that Officers Justin Roberts, Phil Van Why and Joseph Mulcahy failed to meet department standards when they used pocket knives to slash tents, bicycle tires and clothes lines during a search for a suspect at a transient camp on May 3.

That’s something of an understatement. No one in this community should endorse the notion of police officers intentionally destroying individuals’ property, no matter how poor those individuals may be and how little property they may have. If officers treat the least empowered of residents in such manner, they will eventually treat others that way, as well.

Moreover, Camper said, the officers’ actions were not only clearly wrong, they make it more difficult for the department to address the transient issue.

“I’m angry because our department is truly concerned about the growing transient problem in this community, but now any steps I would take to try and address that issue cooperatively with other agencies would likely be viewed as either vindictive or pandering,” Camper said during a press conference Thursday.

We have had our disagreements with Camper, primarily over what information regarding internal police investigations should be made public, and when. No doubt that will continue. For instance, we believe Camper should release the names of the officers who received “minor” departmental discipline for failing to report what they had heard about the tent-slashing incident. At the very least, he ought to say what their discipline consisted of.

But that issue aside, Camper has demonstrated he sincerely is determined to operate a police department in which officers are held to the highest standards of conduct and have the best interests of all citizens in mind.

He took a month to review what occurred at the transient camp in May, and allowed the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney Pete Hautzinger to determine whether there was enough evidence for a criminal prosecution of the officers involved. Hautzinger said there wasn’t.

But once the criminal review and his own evaluation of the incident was completed, Camper took appropriate action in dismissing the officers involved and demonstrated to citizens of this city that he won’t tolerate his officers trampling on people’s rights.


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