About 50 people attended a roundtable meeting Wednesday evening, hosted by Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper, where multiple public officials candidly discussed local law enforcement.
Casper organized the meeting after convening a “steering committee” in October with the goal of determining if local law enforcement has a good relationship with the community it serves.
A survey was ordered, paid for by Zions Bank and conducted by Dan Jones & Associates of Salt Lake City. Many of the questions in the survey were posed to the panel of 13 people at the discussion which included many public officials as well as Bonneville County Sheriff Paul Wilde and Idaho Falls Police Chief Mark McBride. The results of the survey are available on the city’s website, idahofallsidaho.gov.
The conversation was wide-ranging, but some of the highlighted topics discussed included questioning whether a citizen review panel of law enforcement policy should be created as well as concerns about drug use.
The survey, conducted in the last weeks of January and into February, asked 602 randomly selected residents of Bonneville County many questions about local law enforcement. The survey showed more than half of respondents have a positive perception of local law enforcement with only 3 percent reporting a very negative perception.
The results show 82 percent were at least somewhat or strongly in favor of forming a citizen review panel. A panel would be comprised of several citizens and law enforcement officials to review policy and procedures, Casper said.
Bonneville County Prosecutor Danny Clark said he was in favor of a citizen review panel, though the panel’s purview should be limited to internal policy and not the conduct of individual officers or citizens.
No action is currently planned to create a panel.
The survey showed about 55 percent of respondents think law enforcement is “probably” addressing drug problems.
McBride and Wilde each said illegal drug use is a problem in the community. Wilde suggested that even if he could hire 10 more investigators to specifically look at drug enforcement, it would still be a problem in the community.
“What we need is community involvement. We have been getting calls from people saying ‘There’s a lot traffic at this house.’ We need more of that,” Wilde said.
Jason Batalden, a former drug and alcohol counselor who is now Stevens-Henager College’s career services director, suggested that more can be done on the treatment side to perhaps prevent more arrests for drug possession. Batalden said if there was more of a mindset to treat drug addiction as a health issue instead of a legal issue it could help solve the problem.
“I know there are crimes associated with drug use, and I’m not at all advocating we ignore those issues,” Batalden said. “But I really do think if we want to address drug and alcohol problems it can’t be done, in my opinion, from the legal side of the fence.”
Reporter Tom Holm can be reached at 542-6746