Idaho’s early release of ‘nonviolent’ offenders leads to more shootings by police

Police cordon off a number of businesses west of Peterson Toyota on the south side of Fairview Avenue after an office-involved shooting in September 2017.
Police cordon off a number of businesses west of Peterson Toyota on the south side of Fairview Avenue after an office-involved shooting in September 2017. kjones@idahostatesman.com

In an Idaho Statesman article on July 2, a retired law enforcement officer shared his thoughts on what contributed to a spike in officer-involved shootings in Idaho. His three factors were: lack of mental health care, rapid growth and undertrained officers. We agree that two of these factors, lack of mental health care and rapid growth, may be factors that put police officers in the unenviable position to make the extremely difficult decision to use deadly force.

However, Idaho police officers are not poorly trained. From the time we attend the basic Police Academy until we retire, we train. Law enforcement is ever-evolving, as is our training. De-escalation training and the application of appropriate use of force are front and center throughout an officer’s career.

The statement in the article that “there are many cases nationally where the shooting was legally justified, but could have been avoided had the officer used better judgment and tactics” is not fair. These situations are dynamic. There is no way to determine which situations “could” be avoided.

What the article failed to mention is the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), which is a major factor. JRI has been the leading factor in our spike in officer-involved shootings in Ada County since 2016 (the time frame used in the article).

JRI is an ill-conceived and poorly administered program that created state policies leading to the early release of prison inmates. JRI had failed in other states, but was brought to Idaho and sold to legislators as a way to save money by releasing “nonviolent” offenders early.

Since April of 2016, there have been 11 fatal officer-involved shootings in Ada County. Five of the 11 involved parolees inaccurately labeled “nonviolent” offenders released early from prison. Marco Romero, a “nonviolent” offender, was released early under JRI. Romero should have been in prison until 2022. Instead, he was paroled in January 2016, despite being an obvious risk to the community.

2018 now marks the highest number of fatal, officer-involved shootings in Idaho in almost 20 years, according to a Statesman review of publicly available information. Graphic by Cynthia Sewell

In November 2016, Romero shot two friends, shot at two others, and carjacked an elderly woman while running from law enforcement. On Nov. 11, 2016, Romero shot two Boise police officers and Boise police K-9 Jardo. Cpl. Chris Davis recovered from his gunshot wound and returned to duty. Cpl. Kevin Holtry was paralyzed from the waist down and lost the lower part of one of his legs.

Legislators were sold a bill of goods to save money. Contrary to saving money, the community is paying a high price. Citizens have been shot and killed, officers have been shot and severely wounded, a police K-9 was killed, and five offenders lost their lives. None of this had to happen.

JRI is responsible for 45 percent of the officer-involved fatal incidents in Ada County since 2016. The Idaho Legislature, the Idaho Department of Correction and the Idaho Parole Commission can reverse this trend by holding offenders accountable based upon the sentences imposed, repealing JRI and the policies created, and by keeping in place Idaho laws that keep us safe.

Cory Stambaugh is president of the Boise Police Union. Joe Andreoli is president of Fraternal Order of Police, Treasure Valley Lodge No. 11.