Farmington Police are tied for using the state’s Red Flag laws more than any other community in the state, Chief Steve Hebbe told the city’s Community Relations Commission during its June 5 meeting.
“We are not going crazy,” he said. “We used it three times.”
The Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act of 2020, or Red Flag law, in this state allows police officers or any other person with knowledge of someone’s mental state to petition the court to have an individual’s guns removed should they be deemed a threat to themselves or others.
The chief pointed out that while the law is not popular in this community, it “would have played a role in the latest event we had,” Hebbe said, referring to the May 15 shooting on North Dustin Avenue that left four people dead and several others injured.
The shooter, Beau Wilson, 18, is reported to have suffered from mental health issues, but had access to several guns and over 1,400 rounds of ammunition.
“In general, I support the ability of the police to take guns from people who might be in crisis,” Hebbe said. “Every day we go out and make a decision to take away someone’s freedom. We should be able to take away guns.”
Hebbe pointed out that in Wilson’s case, had the police known about his access to guns and his mental health challenges they would have “had a chance to intervene. It would have been a good thing for us. If we had taken the guns, no one would have known it happened,” Hebbe said.
Hebbe shared this with the commission in hopes its members would help sponsor future forums on police and community topics.
“When we have incidents like you’ve seen – it’s been a difficult couple of months for us. The time to be talking is before things happen,” Hebbe said. “Although it’s been controversial, the majority of the community knows us and knows we are willing to talk about it. It comes down to trust and trust starts with groups like you and forums.”
Despite the shooting involving Wilson and the police-involved shooting of Robert Dotson, 52, of Farmington, Commissioner Dale Leedy commented that Hebbe’s leadership was evident. “The compassion and love you have for this community shines through,” he said.
Commissioner Deb Dumont asked Hebbe if there were certain needs to take to the community “something to be proactive about something you are seeing.”
Mental health and the legalization of recreational marijuana were two issues Hebbe said could be addressed.
The commission sponsored forums in the past, prior to the COVID-19 lockdowns. One of those forums addressed mental health. “I definitely felt we were lacking in mental health in San Juan County, and I wanted to spotlight that” Hebbe said.
Hebbe said San Juan County has done a good job setting a up a mental health access center, and there is a person who helps people suffering from mental health crises to help prevent them from harming themselves or others.
The Mental Wellness Resource Center was established in 2021 and offers free, in-person or over-the-phone assistance with locating treatment options for substance abuse or mental and behavioral health.
“We could do something else on mental health,” Hebbe said.
Another hot topic issue was the police role in immigration. “We brought in immigration attorneys and addressed what is the role of a local police department in the immigration debate. It was fairly well attended because it was controversial,” Hebbe said.
Hebbe said it is important to have public discussion about what to expect from the police force, and he wanted the commission to sponsor the forums as well as help come up with potential topics.
“In general, us having more open dialogue with the public is a good thing. We don’t have a lot to hide. There will be controversies,” Hebbe said. “The reason I want more forums and more dialogue is the police are neutral. We take a look at the facts. It leaves us in the middle at a difficult time.”
Marijuana use could be considered a hot topic issue considering the state legalized recreational use, but the police department does not allow its officers to use the drug.
“I’ve never done drugs. Today, almost all of our applicants have done marijuana. At this stage, they cannot do marijuana. It’s a violation of federal law. We are operating on the zero tolerance,” Hebbe said.
The Farmington Police Department is having a difficult time finding people who want to be police officers, placing limitations on their freedom to smoke marijuana is making it more difficult, according to Hebbe.
Assistant City Manager Shana Reeves added the city has to take into account how much marijuana can be in a lifeguard’s system, “or an animal shelter employee, who euthanizes an animal, and something goes wrong” and you have to investigate, she said.
It was easier when city employees had medical marijuana cards, because the city could make exceptions through the American with Disabilities Act, she said. Now, that marijuana is legal, “it blew the top off this thing. Local businesses are struggling. It’s very challenging.”
Hebbe added this goes into the discussion of how to retain police officers once they are hired. “That would be a big broad one,” he said.
“I would like reengage with you all. I like the direction we started down,” Hebbe said, adding he hopes to discuss future forum topics and set another forum for after the first of year.