Thumbs up: Tor Bjornstad
The South Sound community gathered in Olympia’s new City Hall recently to bid a fond retirement to Olympia Police Cmdr. Tor Bjornstad who ended his career after 33 years and seven months serving the community as a public servant. Throughout his distinguished career, Bjornstad served this community with distinction and honor. While no one can dispute his dedication to the community or the badge he wore with pride, an emotional Bjornstad reminded his fellow law enforcement professionals to keep things in perspective. “Don’t ever let it become who you are,” he said of police work. That’s great advice. Along the way in a career that started as a road officer in 1977, Bjornstad rose through the ranks quickly, became the youngest officer ever promoted to sergeant and served a stint as the leader of South Sound’s multi-jurisdictional drug unit. He has, at times, seen Olympia at its very best, and at its worst. Through it all, Bjornstad maintained his professionalism and served this community with pride. He has earned a long and happy retirement.
Thumbs down: Seattle Police
The U.S. Justice Department has launched a formal civil rights investigation into the Seattle Police Department following the fatal shooting of a homeless American Indian woodcarver and other incidents of force used against minority suspects. Seattle police have only themselves to blame for this federal investigation. After all, their questionable conduct, especially the shooting of woodcarver John T. Williams by officer Ian Birk, has been caught on videotape. Other incidents captured on surveillance or police cruiser video include officers using an anti-Mexican epithet and stomping on a prone Hispanic man who was mistakenly thought to be a robbery suspect; an officer kicking a nonresisting black youth in a convenience store; and officers tackling and kicking a black man in a police evidence room after he was mistakenly released from jail. The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and 34 other community groups called for the inquiry. Police Chief John Diaz said in a message to employees Thursday that he looks forward to the DOJ’s feedback and knows any recommendations made will be based on “research, best practices and sound principles.” The federal investigation is necessary to rebuild trust in the Seattle Police Department.
Thumbs up: Falling Numbers
The Department of Transportation recently announced that 32,788 people were killed on U.S. roads in 2010. While that number is staggering, it is a 3 percent decline from the previous year. The Pacific Northwest region, which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska, saw fatalities fall 12 percent. But here’s the staggering statistic: The 32,788 traffic fatalities is the fewest number of deaths since 1949 – during the presidency of Harry Truman – when more than 30,000 people were killed. “Too many of our friends and neighbors are killed in preventable roadway tragedies every day,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We will continue doing everything possible to make cars safer, increase seat belt use, put a stop to drunk driving and distracted driving and encourage drivers to put safety first.” In a recent appearance before editors and publishers, Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste said the number of traffic deaths in this state is on the decline, too, but he said this state continues to struggle with a high number of fatalities caused by drunken drivers. Look for law enforcement officials to tackle that problem with additional patrols and emphasis on getting drunk drivers off the road and behind bars. Chief Batiste will likely continue to press lawmakers to approve sobriety checkpoints which have been shown to reduce the number of motorists who climb behind the wheel while under the influence of intoxicants.
Thumbs up: Mushroom Festival
For awhile it looked as if Lacey’s popular Mushroom Festival might not make it to a fourth year. Thousands of mushroom lovers flocked to the festival last July at the Regional Athletic Complex off Marvin Road. But the Hawks Prairie Rotary Club, the creator and prime sponsor of the event, slashed nearly 20 percent of the event’s budget to make it economically viable. Rotary President Joseph Beaulieu said the costs for the two-day festival hit $85,000, with $25,000 coming from the city of Lacey through lodging taxes. With financial help from the Ostrom Mushroom Farm and others, the festival is a “go” again, though marketing will be trimmed because attendance continues to grow. It’s good to know that the festival is back on the community calendar.