A week has passed since two Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Deputies were shot on Thursday, Feb. 10. in Maple Falls, Washington. In the aftermath, the community reflects on the incident.
Green Valley Drive is quiet a week after the shooting. The quaint homes and backdrop of the limestone quarry in the distance make it hard to believe that this neighborhood was the location of a shootout just days earlier.
For the six individuals who were armed and answered the sound of gunfire during the incident this was much easier to believe.
A Facebook group for the community has even started calling these individuals the “heroes of the night.”
Cody Deeter, one of the individuals who drug the officers to safety, said that he thinks the title is kind, but should be saved for the first responders who serve their communities day in and day out.
“I was protecting my family first and then I was protecting [those] officers,” he said. “They were obviously taken off guard and needed help, the least we could do was help them.”
Jesse Marshall, an Army veteran and another of the individuals who assisted the officers with Deeter that night, said he agreed with Deeter. The man had a shotgun and was a threat; they were just doing what they felt they had to in the moment to keep everyone safe.
Deeter said this wasn’t the first time they had to act in the defense of their community. Last Veterans Day at the opposite end of the cul-de-sac there was a man firing shots out his back door at anyone he could see.
“So a couple of the neighbors and I, again, just parked our cars across the cul de sac and just stood there with guns until the police showed up,” he said.
Deeter said that they all know these officers too, they are no strangers to the community.
“[Sheriff] Rathbone has been up here since we moved up here, and he’s been absolutely amazing,” Deeter said. “He has even stopped by on Thanksgiving twice.”
These individuals weren’t just protecting officers in need of help, they were assisting a friend and member of their community in their eyes.
The shooter’s actions have opened his family up to attention, that the individuals who assisted the officers, feel is unfair. Deeter and Marshall said they wish people would leave the family alone and let them get through this difficult time.
“I hope his son knows that we don’t have any grudge or anything like that,” Marshall said. “He’s got no control over what his dad does.”
The individual charged with shooting the officers had no history of criminal convictions. In 1999, a petition for a domestic violence protection order was brought against him, however, after a hearing before the court, the petition was denied.
Deeter pointed out the glass door to his back porch towards the yard where the dispute had begun. He lamented over the great miscommunication that occurred about a fire burning some brush.
The people who assisted the officers feel that this was a terrible thing that happened to their community, but it should not shape them. They said many of their neighbors have come forward admitting that it feels safer knowing that the neighborhood is looking out for one another.
On the other side of town, there was considerably less adulation. Some of the community questioned the way in which the police handled the call.
“Since I was five I knew that I could never call [the police] and expect them to be there for me in a timely manner,” said Kim Barton, the clerk at the Paradise Market in Maple Falls.
She gestured to a truck that sat outside the market, stripped of nearly all its parts from people taking the opportunity to steal what they desired, a symbol of the police’s inaction in her eyes.
She said that if it weren’t for an officer being shot, the response would not have been so drastic or immediate. As a clerk working at the local gas station – a position that often has to call 911 – she is frustrated by previous experiences that have shown a lack of response.
“There are a lot of crimes happening here every day,” she said. “The presence that was there [that day] was too much and every other time it’s not enough.”
She feels that given the sheriff’s normal response times, these neighborhoods are going to have to rely on the armed citizens a lot more if things keep happening the way they are.
“This will be a daily occurrence because nothing’s being done, more will happen,” she said. “I know we have a bad rap up here, the fact that everybody knows it and there’s nothing being done to help it is kind of shocking.”
Barton clarified that she has a deep respect for the officers and what they do, but she just wishes that someone would guide them towards a way to help her community that she feels is often overlooked because of the troubled reputation that it has.
Policing theory acknowledges that police can rarely solve public safety issues alone.
Community policing is gaining prevalence; it is a model that emphasizes partnership and collaborative problem solving between police and the communities they serve.
Community policing is less practiced in rural communities where law enforcement has less contact with citizens on a regular basis. Well over half of County Sheriff’s offices have fewer than 25 sworn officers, and policing large jurisdictions with limited personnel makes proactive policing difficult.
Washington State has 1.9 police officers per 1,000 people, ranking 51st in law enforcement officers per capita in the United States. Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office is the primary law enforcement agency for approximately 95,000 people living in unincorporated areas across 2,100 square miles.
“You do have to be a jack-of-all-trades,” Deputy Tim Miller of Jones County Sheriff’s Office in Iowa told NBC News. “We are the investigation unit, we are the arson unit, we are the medical unit.”
Deputies in rural areas are asked to respond to a wider variety of calls than their urban counterparts, often by themselves. Support is further away and communication technology is less reliable.
“It can take 15 to 20 minutes for backup to arrive,” said Officer Zach Serad of the Bellingham Police Department. “And radios sometimes don’t work that well.”
Rural departments particularly feel the impact of the nationwide police staffing shortage, which have a hard time competing with urban departments that can offer higher salaries and more opportunities for advancement.
Contractual agreements between law enforcement agencies allow for support across jurisdictions. This provides supplemental personnel and equipment for events that require a large police presence when a single department can’t provide enough resources.
“On normal days we do not police the rural areas outside of Bellingham,” Lt. Claudia Murphy of BPD said. “Our jurisdiction is inside the city limits. In this case, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office asked for mutual aid for our SWAT team initially, and then the Law Enforcement Mutual Aid Response Team was activated, as it was an officer-involved shooting.”
Bellingham Police Department is the lead agency in the investigation of the shooting but has not commented on whether officers were following proper procedure.
Washington law requires that officers use de-escalation tactics wherever possible, and Undersheriff Doug Chadwick of WCSO said the responding officers did the right thing.
“In these types of situations, seconds matter,” Chadwick said. “And like I said, these deputies responded as they were trained.”
Training aside, crime and policing in rural communities remains difficult. Citizens are often armed, and trust in the police and the willingness to utilize them as a resource is less than uniform.
Geographical barriers and long distances make rapid call response challenging. All these factors were present on the evening of Feb. 10.
What's unique in this case is that the citizens had to defend not only themselves but also the police.
Chauncey Gummere (he/him) is one of the city news reporters for the Front this quarter. He is a third-year, majoring in Journalism with an emphasis on Public Relations. Chauncey’s most recent writing accomplishment was free-lancing for an Australian gaming company.