Snohomish chief: ‘Please don’t open carry on the streets’

In a letter to the community, Robert Palmer also asks that protesters during this tense time remain peaceful.

Capt. Robert Palmer (City of Snohomish)

Capt. Robert Palmer (City of Snohomish)

SNOHOMISH — For months, civil unrest has spread across the nation as protests against police brutality and racism have unfolded allover, including in rural parts of Snohomish County.

Now the country awaits the results of one of the most monumental presidential elections of our time. With that in mind, Snohomish police Chief Robert Palmer has penned a letter to those who live here, though the message could be addressed to any town.

Palmer stepped into the role of police chief in June after former chief Keith Rogers was reassigned to another position in the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, which provides policing for the city. People called for Rogers to resign after a gathering in downtown Snohomish in late May, where some carried guns and displayed racist symbols.

Palmer, a sheriff’s office captain, was sworn in as chief on Oct. 6.

At a recent Snohomish City Council meeting, elected leaders discussed the possibility of violent demonstrations Tuesday night after election results begin to roll in.

“Are we seriously considering violence on the night of election?” Councilmember Steve Dana asked.

The answer was yes — regional and state law enforcement would be prepared for that possibility.

“That’s a sad, sad state of affairs,” Dana said. Others agreed.

While no credible threat has been identified, sheriff’s spokesperson Courtney O’Keefe said in an email that the sheriff’s office is collaborating with the county, fire agencies and Sno911 to be ready in the event something does happen. The county’s Emergency Coordination Center, which has now been open for months monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest in the region, will remain operational on election night. And County Auditor Garth Fell said ballot drop boxes will be staffed on Nov. 3, though the focus will mostly be on managing traffic and assuring everyone can submit their ballots.

Here’s Palmer’s full letter:

An open letter to Snohomish

Greetings to all of you from your new Police Chief; and that greeting extends to the larger Snohomish community that surrounds us — we are all deeply committed to seeing a healthy and safe city and I wanted to express a few thoughts and make some simple requests as we navigate uncertain times.

Since assuming this role in early June, I’ve spent many (some sleepless) hours reflecting on the events that occurred to bring me to this position, and what we can do, together, to avoid unnecessary or negative circumstances in the future. 2020 has been the most challenging year that many of us can remember and sadly, our communities, and our country, have become deeply divided on several significant topics — Political Ideology, Law Enforcement, Economics, and most importantly, Race. Every one of these topics needs and deserves careful consideration, thought, and revision and I want to state that I emphatically support the right of our citizens to peaceably assemble and protest the things that they find wrong in our society. I also categorically stand against racism, bigotry and prejudice in any form, for any reason.

As your Police Chief you have my promise that I will do all that I can to facilitate assemblies and maintain a safe environment for them when they are held in the city. It is my sworn duty to protect the rights of our citizens, as expressed in the Bill of Rights, without regard to my own beliefs and equally under the law — I cannot choose sides. I have sworn that oath many times in my service to our country, and to my community, and I take it as seriously as is expected of me.

It is also the responsibility of our citizens to follow our laws and actively participate in partnership with their law enforcement to maintain safe communities. We work for you, but we also need to work with you. Violence in any form is counterproductive to a thoughtful and meaningful dialogue about effecting change that meets the needs of all of us, not just one side or the other. Even the threat of violence, actual or perceived, creates further division, raises tensions, and erodes the community’s sense of safety. It also destroys the validity of the message being sent by the body trying to be heard by the larger audience.

My first request is this; if you wish to protest an injustice, seek a redress of wrongs, get your message out to as wide an audience as possible — don’t break other people’s stuff while you’re at it. It doesn’t help anything or anyone and most likely harms the livelihoods of exactly the people you are trying to speak for. Please respect the rights of others, as you correctly expect your rights to be respected; assemble peaceably and responsibly and I will do everything within my lawful authority to facilitate you.

Conversely, when well-intentioned citizens come to the city to provide community support or security in the face of a serious threat, while visibly armed with semi-automatic weapons and tactical gear, this automatically creates an uncomfortable distraction for my officers who are called to respond to the situation. Please consider how their safety is compromised by such distractions during a critical or rapidly evolving event. The more focus my professionally trained, and legally-authorized team of officers can apply to the complexities of a potential or active threat — without such distractions — the safer they and our community will be.

The simple truth is that citizens have no legal authority to stop anyone from doing anything and direct intimidation of otherwise peaceful protesters could subject you to arrest.

So my second ask is this; If you hear of a planned protest in the city of Snohomish, even one with a credible threat of violence, please leave your weapons at home or safely and legally stored out of sight, but please don’t open carry on the streets as we have seen. It doesn’t make my job, or the job of the dedicated officers in Snohomish any easier. In fact, it makes it infinitely harder and creates long-lasting tensions in the community that likely ripple for months afterward. Let me use the legal and lawful resources that I have available to me to maintain order, if necessary, and within the law. If you wish to support your police during protest events, let that support begin with faith in our professional training and ability to work together as a team.

The remainder of 2020, and likely well into 2021, has every indication of continuing the uncertainty and stress our communities have seen over the last 8 months. I will work with anyone, anytime, to minimize that uncertainty and stress, within my authority to do so, but I simply can’t make it all go away. Working together, we can keep a lot of it in check through cooperation and understanding that every American is equally entitled to their Constitutional rights and their own personal views and philosophies.

My final ask is this; please do everything you can to keep Snohomish safe, welcoming, racism free and to work with me as we navigate these challenging times as a community — not as antagonists or a divided nation.

—Thank you, Chief Rob Palmer, Snohomish Police Department

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