The power of example

In autumn of 1997, a young woman went to the University of Nevada, Reno Police Department and reported that she had been raped by a former boyfriend. After bringing charges, she went downtown to the Temporary Protection Order office to try to get a protective order. She arrived too late, but got the paperwork and returned in the morning. When she arrived, UNR police officer Mark Covington was waiting. He had monitored her situation and arrived to help her. He stayed with her all through the TPO process, assisting and supporting her. She responded to his kindness.

“For her to have recently been raped and be responding to a man helping her was really something,” said Rebecca Thomas, then the TPO Office director, who had grilled Covington when he first arrived to learn his interest in the case. “I am impressed that a law enforcement officer would be that responsive to the needs of that student—or any citizen—and I appreciated the manner with which he dealt with her, showing compassion, not being pushy and cop-like. … He set a standard.”

As it happened, this incident occurred during a period when another UNR police officer was convicted of assault and battery in a domestic abuse case. That case was widely publicized. The Covington incident was not.

We wanted to preface this editorial with this information because it is important, during these weeks when two officers have embarrassed the UNR Police Services, to remember that no entity or group is all good or all bad. What we need to know is whether they learn from their mistakes.

The new incidents involved a UNR officer who made a crack about using violence against a student, and another officer who was in blackface and a costume that mocked Colin Kaepernick. How did such cloddishness become popular? Parents might ask themselves.

By coincidence, Sparks Tribune columnist Andrew Barbano reports that a Yerington teen recently posed in with a gun and a knife in an online photo captioned “The redneck god of all gods we bout to go nigger huntin.” Was that teen following an example set by police officers?

How serious the campus is about making amends is uncertain. Campus officials showed the public little when they withdrew the video of the first incident. Now, of all times, they should be forthcoming. Police Chief Adam Garcia issued an admirable apology. It was not hedged or halfway. It was detailed and nuanced. But shouldn’t the officers have apologized?

It was a long, hard trip for the campus police to get policy authority. In the 1960s, the office had a reputation for recklessness, contaminating evidence, undercutting rape cases. In the 1970s when the Nevada Legislature considered full police authority for UNR, lawmakers learned false testimony was given on the measure, and they killed the bill. UNR Police Services finally got the authority, but many felt it was a mistake, and in 1993 the lawmakers required the university to file reports on the department.

Chief Garcia recognizes the need to “regain the trust of our students, and in particular those of color.” He can’t do it alone. It’s a campus and community responsibility to demand a better example.