ISJ EDITORIAL: Thank you Pocatello police

March 24, 2019

The world can be a pretty scary place.

Even in East Idaho, bad things obviously happen and it often seems like the crimes we’re seeing in our communities are getting worse and more frequent.

The only individuals we have to protect us from the evil that’s out there are the men and women who constitute that thin blue line.

Unfortunately, those brave enough to wear the badge in Idaho and elsewhere often find themselves to be much maligned for being overly aggressive or lazy or in law enforcement for the wrong reasons. Usually those being arrested are law enforcement’s biggest critics.

The truth is that we are fortunate to have these heroes in our midst putting their lives on the line to protect the rest of us — doing a job the rest of us can’t and don’t want to do — because without them our world would be infinitely worse off.

One example of excellence in law enforcement is our own Pocatello Police Department.

Two incidents this past week proved to be true tests for the Gate City’s police force and the outcomes of those incidents should make us all feel extremely confident, proud and thankful regarding our city’s officers.

The first incident occurred this past Monday evening when a man suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder dialed 911 and told a Pocatello police dispatcher that he was armed and was going to start shooting people in Old Town.

The man hung up but the dispatcher called him back and got his location on North Main Street.

The responding Pocatello police officers found the man and believed that the object he was hiding under his shirt was a firearm.

The man threatened the officers and told them he wanted to commit suicide by cop.

The police officers at the scene made the split-second decision to shoot the man with a beanbag gun. The less-lethal weapon incapacitated the man and allowed the officers to take him into custody.

What the man claimed was a firearm under his shirt turned out to be a vaping device.

The man was transported via ambulance to Portneuf Medical Center, where he was admitted to the mental health ward so he could receive treatment for his PTSD.

It’s hard to imagine the stress the dispatcher and especially the responding officers were under during this incident. A man believed to be armed threatening to commit a mass shooting in a downtown area is the stuff of nightmares for police but it’s hard to imagine the Pocatello Police Department handling Monday night’s incident any better.

The same Pocatello police officers who dealt with the man with severe PTSD were called to the scene of a horrific murder 24 hours later.

An elderly Pocatello woman was found stabbed to death in her north side home.

There were no suspects initially and the brutality and random nature of the crime gripped our entire community in fear.

Pocatello police didn’t downplay what happened when they held their first of two press conferences about the murder. They told all of us to lock our doors and windows and report any and all suspicious activity until those responsible for the murder had been arrested.

Late Wednesday night, the two individuals who Pocatello police say murdered 87-year-old Arlyne Koehler were arrested in California.

Eighteen-year-old Dustin Garrett Alfaro and his 17-year-old accomplice have been charged with first-degree murder for fatally stabbing Koehler. If convicted they could face the death penalty.

Bannock County prosecutors wouldn’t find many critics if they decide to seek that punishment in this case.

It took some incredible police work to find Koehler’s alleged killers in another state within 48 hours of her dead body being discovered in her home but the Pocatello Police Department proved it was up to that extremely difficult task.

The only regret among the department’s officers is that they weren’t able to prevent one of their citizens from being murdered.

Unfortunately, crime is going to happen and there’s not a community anywhere that’s immune.

The best any community can hope for is that it has a police force dedicated to not only protecting and serving but also informing the media and public about what’s going on.

The Pocatello Police Department passed some pretty tough tests last week and rose to the occasion in every way possible.

Within an hour of Monday night’s incident on North Main Street, Pocatello police were telling the media what happened. Police held two press conferences in 24 hours regarding Koehler’s murder because they wanted to answer all of the media’s questions about her death and keep everyone updated on the investigation. There was definitely an understanding on the part of the Pocatello Police Department that keeping the media informed meant keeping the public informed.

But more noteworthy than that was what Pocatello police Maj. Roger Schei said about the horrific way an innocent elderly woman met her end. He said Pocatello police officers took the death of one of their citizens “personally.”

Pocatello police Capt. James McCoy said the department’s officers worked non-stop from the time Koehler’s body was found inside her home on Tuesday evening to Thursday morning’s press conference announcing the suspects were in custody. There would be no breaks or time off while justice eluded those who brutally stabbed to death an innocent grandmother who had the tragic misfortune of finding herself in evil’s path.

It’s hard to imagine how any community could have a better police force.

Thank you Pocatello police.