No good deed goes unpunished. Santa Rosa’s police force participated in a street festival in the town’s South Park (Oh my God, they killed Kenny!) neighborhood. The SWATties were there, too. They brought along a police pooch, their command van and their urban assault vehicle for the kiddies to crawl through. Cool, huh? Well, some of it was. Maybe. But they also brought along *gasp* guns…
Kevin McCallum, with the refreshingly honestly named pressdemocrat.com, breathlessly breaks the news. Almost as if he were revealing that a government agency has been aiding and abetting the illegal export of guns to drug runners. OK, bad example.
What has his knickers in a twist? Was he concerned about the militarization of police work? The no-knock raids in the middle of the night, sometimes at wrong addresses? The executed family pets? Nope.
Young children attending a festival in Santa Rosa’s South Park neighborhood Saturday were allowed to handle weapons used by the city’s SWAT team, causing some to question the appropriateness of such a display at a family event promoting safe communities.
Photos taken at the event show a Santa Rosa police officer talking with a group of youths as a young boy holds a fully-automatic assault rifle while looking through its sniper scope. Another shows a boy perhaps as young as 5 years old grabbing the grip of a riot gun on a table covered with gear beside the city’s SWAT command vehicle.
Goodness. A sniper scope. All of which caused severe cases of the vapors among the more delicate members of the community. It really is a wonder no one had their head blown off, no?
The images, which were circulated by email among a group of concerned citizens, were forwarded to Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Marsha Vas Dupre, who said she was “alarmed and devastated” by the display and questioned the judgment shown by police.
Attila Nagy, who snapped the photos and circulated them, said he’s in favor of community outreach by the police, but thinks they’d get a better response if they left their military-grade arsenal at home.
“What are young people learning from this?” Nagy asked. “No matter how you justify it, no matter how you twist it, it’s the promotion of violence.”
Alarm and devastation. You’d think the local Nazi party had goose stepped through the fair. Poor Attila won’t sleep for days. The image of the innocent neighborhood urchins holding actual guns (even under the supervision of a police officer) is just too disturbing.
To the cops, that’s exactly what they were doing – community outreach. An updated version of community policing, the theory that cops should engage the people they serve and enlist their help to identify problems.
But police and event organizers defended the display as a successful community outreach effort that is in line with the department’s efforts to demystify law enforcement generally and its SWAT team in particular.
The department has participated in the event for three years, and the community response has been positive, [Police Chief Tom] Schwedhelm said. One officer who patrols the area used the opportunity to play soccer with kids. Children and adults got to pet a police dog. And the SWAT display included the weapons they use.
“Whether you like it or not, our police have guns,” Schwedhelm said.
But that didn’t cut much ice with a member of some local bureaucratic entity or other.
Elaine Holtz said she was shocked to see children encouraged to play with deadly weapons at the event.
Holtz is a member of the city’s Community Advisory Board who was staffing its booth when she wandered down to the SWAT area. At first she saw children playing in what she called the “tank” and didn’t have any problem with that.
“Then I turned around here’s this child holding a semi-automatic rifle,” Holtz said. “That’s when the grandmother and the mother in me really thought ‘Wait a minute.’”
Holtz said she asked the officer, Perry Plattus, what the goal of the display was, and he responded that it was for “gun control,” Holtz recalled.
Hard to know how accurate Holtz’s memory was. Maybe Plattus was just appeasing her. But maybe he just didn’t elaborate fully on what he really meant. It’s a good bet that he sees allowing kids to hold the weapons as demystifying guns. Many of he kids were probably holding a real gun for the first time in their lives. Kids who aren’t afraid of guns are less likely to have a tragic accident.
…a display of SWAT firepower can have a way of teaching people that “this is not a weapon to be messed around with,” Schwedhelm said.
“Why do you think the police have weapons like this? It’s because that’s what’s needed to make the community safer,” he said
None of which will matter one little bit to people like Holtz, for whom even the sight of a gun is an affront. Remember, this is California. Land of peace and prosperity tranquility where guns are outré. Where right-thinking people don’t want even police officers showing guns to their children. Better to keep the forbidden, mysterious and therefore, an object of desire. It’s so much “safer” that way.