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Gullixson: A disarming approach to protests

According to a study published last year by USA Today, nearly 6,000 doctors nationwide between 2001 and 2011 had their privileges restricted or revoked by hospitals and other medical institutions due to malpractice related to patient care.

National figures show that roughly 1,000 attorneys each year are disbarred, most often because of professional misconduct.

Meanwhile, newspapers are filled with stories of financial professionals, nonprofit workers, clergy members and, yes, even journalists showing poor judgment on the job, errors that land them in jail, in civil court and/or in unemployment lines.

Given all of that, why is it that we have such a hard time discussing how those in the profession of public safety sometimes, like everyone else, make mistakes?

Instead, it seems every time there’s a questionable officer-involved shooting, like the one that’s now tearing apart the town of Ferguson, Mo., barr-icades go up, a code of silence is enforced and the general public gets the message: “Yes, this was a tragedy. But it wasn’t personal. It was protocol.”

No admission of responsibility. No acknowledgment of how the situation could have been handled differently. And, certainly, no apology.

It’s a dead-end conversation. And the result is predictable: More public outrage, more distrust, more lawsuits.

It’s no doubt one reason why many Sonoma County residents were frustrated last week at the news that Deputy Erick Gelhaus, the officer responsible for the shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez was put back out on patrol. Yes, 10 months later, the community appears to be moving toward some significant changes, including putting cameras on deputy uniforms, improving oversight of officer-involved shootings and, possibly, creating a public park at the corner of Moorland and W. Robles avenues where the shooting occurred. But putting the deputy back on patrol was a harsh reminder that we’re no closer to having assurances that what happened on Oct. 22, 2013 won’t happen again.

Andy certainly had the power to prevent it by not carrying a toy rifle that closely resembled a real weapon and by responding more quickly to the officer’s commands to drop the weapon. But there’s still no acknowledgment of what the deputy could have done differently.

Last month, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch concluded that when Gelhaus fired, striking the boy seven times, he believed the threat was real and was following protocol and training, and therefore his actions didn’t warrant criminal charges. No surprise. I don’t believe most people really believed Gelhaus should face prison time. But what we still haven’t heard is whether he made a mistake — and what the department is doing to ensure it doesn’t happen again.


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