The Salem Police Department has a new chief, Trevor Womack. But it doesn't have a new way of going about policing.
That's a big problem.
Hopefully Chief Womack is up to the task of carrying out needed reforms, restoring confidence in the department, and altering the mission of the department in light of a national movement to shift policing from a militaristic warrior model to a peacekeeper guardian model.
This is a complex job. It will take a lot of wisdom to carry out.
Womack, along with other police chiefs, has to deal with a lengthy history of policing in America being dominated by a mentality that views officers as akin to soldiers fighting a war against criminals, rather than as citizens helping to bring about peace in their community.
These different approaches to policing were on full display on May 1 when Salem police chose to sit by while the extremist Proud Boys militia group threatened people in a public park while serving as supposed "security" for a gun rights rally.
Well, what I mean by full display is that the warrior crime-fighting model was plainly evident, while the guardian peacekeeper model was notable by its absence.
No uniformed Salem police officers were seen anywhere near the gun rally. So the Proud Boys were free to threaten several people with dire consequences if they didn't leave the rally area, even though the rally had no permit and was being held in a public park.
The Proud Boys also threatened a journalist, telling him he couldn't observe the rally from a close-in location, but only from farther away in the park.
Yet the Salem Police Department considered that they did a great job, issuing a misleading statement that said, in part, that because no criminal behavior by the Proud Boys was observed by their officers, how they handled the gun rally event was a success.
What irked many people, including those threatened and harassed by the Proud Boys, was that uniformed Salem police didn't see the wrongdoing being done by militia members because they chose not to come close to the gun rally area.
This is the opposite of what a guardian would do, what a peacekeeper would do.
If Salem police were acting as guardians, they would have had a substantial presence at the gun rally. Then they would have seen a group of Proud Boys going up to people they didn't like, telling those people they had to leave or something bad would happen to them.
A guardian wants to be clearly visible so citizens can reach out to them for help. But a warrior is only worried about overt criminal behavior.
So Salem police ignored the threats being made to people in a public park, because their focus was on waiting for the Proud Boys to do something dramatically criminal.
Apparently no one at the Salem Police Department thought that citizens who wanted to observe the speakers at the gun rally needed to be guarded against threats being made by armed members of the Proud Boys militia group that took part in the January 6 insurrection at the nation's capitol.
Thus those citizens were left to fend for themselves, while undercover police officers reportedly were in the park, but obviously doing something else than guarding the rights of people watching a gun rally in a public space.
If uniformed officers had been at the rally, those threatened by the Proud Boys could have yelled to them, saying, "Officer, come over here. There's a problem." That's how a guardian would have acted: walking over to the person being threatened with expulsion and telling the Proud Boys, "You can't do that."
For some reason the Salem Police Department can't understand why people were so upset when groups of armed Proud Boys wearing tactical vests roamed around the gun rally area of Riverfront Park telling citizens that if they didn't leave, something bad would happen to them.
A spokesman for the department even said that it was OK for the Proud Boys to order people to leave the park, according to a Statesman Journal story.
Upkes also pointed to the nuance of whether escorting people out of the park was illegal. Simply telling someone to leave the public area — and even walking with them — isn't necessarily a crime. But pairing that order with the threat of violence, menacing or harassment is, he said.
Well, that's exactly what happened -- threats of violence, menacing, harassment. But since Salem police chose to take a "see no evil" approach to the Proud Boys, they didn't observe the threats made to several people observing the gun rally.
It would have been so simple to have a half dozen or so uniformed police officers standing at the edges of the gun rally, ready to step in if the Proud Boys or anyone else started to cause trouble.
Yet the Salem Police Department chose not to take this guardian approach.
Were they afraid to confront the Proud Boys? Did they feel that these armed militia members in tactical vests looked like us, so posed no problem? How badly would the Proud Boys have needed to act before Salem police would have done something?
This was a failure by the Salem Police Department. Hopefully lessons will be learned from it.
Like, it would have been much better to prevent trouble by having a guardian police presence at the gun rally, rather than sitting back and waiting for an obvious crime to be committed requiring a warrior response.