Kuna police, Ada County Sheriff’s Office deputies and dozens of other local law enforcement officers spent six hours Tuesday searching a Kuna neighborhood for a violent man who fired a gun at an officer during a traffic stop — and then ran away, eventually breaking into a home to avoid arrest.
The neighborhood, bordered by Hubbard, Meridian, Deer Flat and Linder roads, has over 200 homes. There are 12 roads that allow cars to get in or out. It’s a big area, with lots of places for someone to hide, including the grounds of Reed Elementary School. It’s also a neighborhood with hundreds of potential victims for someone who has clearly shown a propensity for violence and a strong desire to avoid arrest.
When we were actively searching that neighborhood Tuesday — knocking on doors to check on people, following footprints in the snow, checking out reports of barking dogs and setting up officers around potential hiding places — we asked people on Twitter to refrain from streaming live video or posting pictures of the active search on all social media. Some of our followers raised questions about that.
The key word in our request is “active.” Broadcasting the location and movements of law enforcement outside a home — or other areas like an outbuilding or field where a violent suspect could be hiding — could give that suspect the information they need to target officers, figure out ways to escape, identify people nearby who could become victims or spur them into violent action they might not take if they didn’t know what was going on around them.
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Showing video or pictures of a search of an area that was just cleared could allow a suspect to double back to that area to hide or get away. Live video and pictures could certainly take away the element of surprise for law enforcement and turn what might have been a quickly resolved incident into a potential siege.
We would never ask the people of Ada County not to document what we do, whether that means recording video or taking pictures. We are public employees, working in the public arena, serving the public good.
What we ask is that people keep public safety in mind when it comes to sharing live video or pictures of active law enforcement activity. We ask that you wait to share them until after the immediate threat has passed or the incident has been resolved.
The Pew Research Center estimates that 9 in 10 Americans own a cellphone, with two-thirds of those people owning smartphones. It’s a good bet suspects in situations like the one we had Tuesday have cellphones that can access videos, pictures and other information on social media.
The No. 1 priority at the Ada County Sheriff’s Office is public safety. Our deputies use their expertise and knowledge — our best tactics — to resolve potentially dangerous and violent situations to protect the public. We are asking people to not potentially compromise that work as it is happening.
Stephen Bartlett is the Ada County sheriff.