Wenatchee Police go extra mile to encourage mask use, help community
I had a chat with Wenatchee Police Chief Steve Crown about how law enforcement agencies can avoid horrific situations such as the grotesque killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer who had his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
Crown said his reaction to Floyd’s killing was revulsion. When the Black Lives Matter protest was held in Wenatchee, Crown and Captain Edgar Reinfeld showed up in uniform. There were a few anti-cop signs at that first Wenatchee rally, but Crown’s perspective is that the George Floyd killing was “pretty fresh” and so he didn’t take that personally. The department monitored the demonstration in covert manner.
The marches here and elsewhere reflect a growing number of people who want our society to acknowledge and address our racial history as well as instances of police abuse.
Crown is committed to staying connected to the community, for he believes that the connection to community is what has been lost in departments across the country where abuses of police power have occurred. We saw abundant evidence of police overreaction during the early marches in other parts of the country.
Crown said he is committed to maintaining a strong community connection here. They are aggressively recruiting and hiring individuals who are bilingual, bicultural and female to better reflect the community the department serves.
Here’s an example of a community-based effort that the Wenatchee Police Department is involved in.
In partnership with the Chelan-Douglas Health District, Wenatchee police officers are helping educate the public using cards provided by the health district to encourage people to wear masks in an effort to keep people healthy and reduce the spread of coronavirus.
The story behind the Mask Up card (Be a protector, not an infector) is an example of how a collaborative, connected community works together to solve local challenges. Everybody I contacted about this story wanted someone else to get the credit.
Several people have had a hand in this. Dr. Jen Jorgensen of Confluence Health and friend Michelle Jobe were pondering ways to encourage mask wearing. Dr. Jorgensen told me that she understands in some situations it’s not feasible for law enforcement officers to wear masks, but thought a way could be found for law enforcement to encourage health and safety. The idea that emerged was to print a card that law enforcement officers could use when out in the community. Dr. Lance Jobe, Michelle’s husband, offered to provide training to any law enforcement officers.
She shared the idea with Dr. Malcolm Butler, the local health officer. He immediately connected with Suzanne Hartman, who is doing contract work for the health district, to develop a prototype. Dr. Butler put out a call to law enforcement agencies and the first leader that responded was Chief Crown. Kent Sisson of Chelan County Emergency Management followed suit and made cards available to other first responders. Plans are evolving to make them more widely available.
The statewide directive to wear masks puts law enforcement agencies in a challenging spot at times. There are higher priorities to do than police mask wearing and no one, including Gov. Jay Inslee, expects them to write tickets. But he didn’t want his officers to be seen as resisting the call to Mask Up. “We want to be supportive of our local medical community,” Crown said. Officers are given discretion about when they use masks and so “you’ll see us on occasion, not wearing face coverings.”
Crown viewed the Mask Up Cards, which are written in both Spanish and English, as an opportunity to support the community and as a tool to provide public information to individuals and businesses.
The coronavirus epidemic has hit our Latino community extremely hard, with more than 80 percent of the confirmed positive cases from that group.
With all of the conflicting information out in the community about mask wearing and particular challenge of reaching our Latino neighbors, the effort by the Wenatchee Police Department is a welcome positive touch point to help encourage public safety. This is an excellent example of a public agency taking an extra step to help the community.
I believe if we can focus on doing the best we can with mask wearing, our community will be OK. Let’s give people who aren’t wearing masks the benefit of the doubt and assume they have COPD or some other condition that prevents wearing a mask. There is no reason to shame people for not wearing masks, which only causes hard feelings. It’s far more effective to encourage good behavior when it comes to community issues like this.
Thanks, Chief Crown, for being a civic leader as well as a police chief and modeling community collaboration.