Amid a global pandemic and national protests against police killings of Black people, Mike Krantz started his new job last week as Bend’s police chief.

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Three days into the job, an attempt by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to detain two longtime Bend residents was met with a local community blockade and protest leading to a standoff with Border Patrol agents.

Mike Krantz was an assistant chief for the Portland Police Bureau before taking the job in Bend. He spoke with host Geoff Norcross on OPB’s “Think Out Loud” about his new role and philosophy for the Bend police department.

Geoff Norcross: What was it like to face that protest in your city on your first week on the job?

Chief Mike Krantz: It was definitely not what I expected on my third day, and it was a challenging event just to be in a new city and working with new people, learning new processes here. But ultimately, the considerations are the same when you talk about law enforcement and free speech, and the need to really ensure that we’re not interfering with people’s rights, and the need to assess situations and respond appropriately if there’s a reason to.

Norcross: What was the role of your officers there?

Krantz: After initial response, our role was to really make a presence and just be aware that we were there for overall public safety, and that if we had to respond to something that was a life safety issue, we were capable a nd had enough resources to respond to make sure people were safe.

Norcross: What did you hear from members of the community about your presence there and about the event afterwards?

Krantz: I’ve got a lot of responses from the community, it’s fairly polarizing — there are members of our community who think that we didn’t do enough, there’s members who thought we did way too much. And there’s community members who felt like we were completely appropriate. As with any decision, I think there are a lot of opinions and thoughts — especially right now, and 2020 has been a challenging year — about law enforcement response.

Norcross: There’s a state law that basically prohibits your department or any local law enforcement department in the state of Oregon from helping federal authorities in operations like this, it’s the so-called sanctuary state law. Do you think that’s a good law?

Krantz: Well, my personal opinions I’ll keep to myself. I think it’s important that as law enforcement agents, I need to be able to practice neutrality around justice. So my job is to enforce law and assess the law and evaluate it, and see how we respond to that.

I don’t necessarily feel constrained. I don’t believe that as a local law enforcement officer for thirty years, I know there’s people who have certain roles in law enforcement — federal, state, local. I don’t believe it’s our job to do immigration work.

Norcross: There’s a larger issue here, and that is that society is having a reckoning with the role of police and policing, especially when it comes to communities of color. What does it feel like to be starting in a new job as police chief at this time?

Krantz: That’s a challenge. Who wouldn’t say it’s a challenge right now to step into an executive level police role? Everyone’s going to have some response to that about, ‘How do I do this best? How do I fulfill my obligation to be the best I can with the people that I am leading, and responsible for, and keep everyone safe?’ So it’s definitely a challenge.

Norcross: You’re coming from Portland, where police have been criticized for the way they have responded to people protesting police violence right now. What do you think the role that Bend police should be in these kinds of protests?

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Krantz: Our number one goal is to ensure that people have their constitutional rights: that we don’t interfere with their freedom of speech and their First Amendment [rights]. So that’s the overarching goal.

I think that’s generally how a lot of people in law enforcement would look at it. Constitutional policing is important. I want to ensure that we’re not interfering with people’s rights, but I also want to make sure that there’s a clear distinction between what is your First Amendment right to speech and expression, and then what crosses over to be criminal behavior. The situation changes, and we assess it differently and consider our response differently.

Norcross: Can you give me some sense of when that happens? What do you need to see?

Krantz: When you come up with information, and you collect the information and you assess it [and] the overall tenor of an event — are there threats, are there risks, are there other criminal behaviors occurring — we would have to consider [the] powers and the laws and the policies that give us authority here, and what should we enforce as proportionality of the number of people engaged in criminal behavior.

We don’t always have to take enforcement actions. If it’s something that is very low level, that’s going to cause an increased, energized crowd that would then continue into larger scale criminal behavior.

Ultimately the goal is to de-escalate anything that would cause some sort of need for police intervention, then continue with a peaceful event.

Norcross: What is your view on the use of tear gas at protests?

Krantz: I think there’s a lot of options around less lethal types of force. Every piece of less lethal equipment or every force that you use — sponge rounds, bean bag rounds, CS gas, pepper spray, just pure physical force — each one of those have to have an evaluation of why you would do that. So there’s certainly space for specific tools that can lead to assisting in de-escalating or clearing an area if it’s a vast area where mass violence is occurring.

The general idea of just a use of gas on a crowd would be inappropriate. But if you have to assess that toward the information you know, what that tool may do to help de-escalate or to help stop something further? Then that may be the appropriate tool.

Norcross: Portland city leaders recently chose to do away with the school resource officer program where police officers are placed in schools. And the objection there is that the presence of officers in the schools makes for a bad learning environment, especially in communities that have a tough relationship with the police. Bend still has officers in the schools — do you think that program should continue?

Krantz: Yeah, I do. I value the school resource officers, there’s a lot of really good relationship building that occurs there. There’s a lot of opportunity to be involved in youth lives... and have an opportunity to discuss things that may be bothering them.

A lot of reports come through our officers that have helped children get out of situations they were unable to speak with anyone else about, whether it be abusive or domestic violence, or addiction issues.

Norcross: Police officers have been asked to do a lot in society, and some will say they’ve been asked to do too much. What do you think the ultimate role of a police force should be?

Krantz: That’s a big question. We’re one spoke of a wheel of government and social services, and our role really is around crime prevention and call response for emergency situations. It’s obviously expanded drastically from that initial goal, and we’ve taken on a lot because law enforcement everywhere is the person that shows up when someone calls 911. They’re the face of government when someone needs help.

Whether it be a mental health issue, an addiction issue, homelessness issue, we respond to everything. And I think communities on a whole have discovered there’s been a lack of building that response through alternate methods over the years, and it all has been dumped on the police.

I think you won’t find a lot of police officers and a lot of agencies that wouldn’t agree that there should be some alternate responses to some of these issues that are not necessarily crimes. Looking for alternative methods, I’m a proponent of.

Hear the full conversation by clicking play on the audio player at the top of this story.

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