OUR VIEW: Questions arise about OPD Snyder response

THE POINT: We support OPD and all law enforcement officers. But we question the response of the agency to a July disturbance on Snyder Street.

Every day, law enforcement officers put their lives on the line for the citizens in their community. They have to deal with the drug addicted, the mentally ill and the malcontents never knowing how they’ll react and, more often than not, they have to do so when they’re shorthanded.

We appreciate them. We truly do.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we’re not going to press for answers when questionable situations arise.

That’s why we reached out to Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke when we heard rumors about what happened on Snyder Street and Dixie Boulevard July 4 and read one officer’s account of that night.

Let us tell you, it sounds as though it was complete mayhem in the neighborhood and let’s be clear, there’s no way we would have wanted to be anywhere near there, but we’ll get back to that.

According to a report written by Joe Raymond Galindo, an officer with OPD, officers received calls of shots being fired in the neighborhood about 11:30 p.m., but he told patrol officers to disregard the call because he was in the area and knew the entire neighborhood was firing large aerial fireworks.

DPS officers did respond to the call, however, and asked for help because they found a front yard that was on fire and they’d been shelled with aerial fireworks and glass bottles.

Instead of providing the DPS troopers with some help, the troopers were told to leave, according to Galindo’s report.

It gets worse.

According to Galindo, he gathered the troopers in an open field a block away and told them that what was happening on Snyder Street was “the usual civil disobedience that occurs on the 4th of July and New Year’s.”

In the middle of the chat, Galindo said a set of shots were fired.

The troopers offered to “clear the area” for OPD by calling for other counties to assist.

As more troopers gathered, Galindo said he told his shift commander “of the active and continuous shots being fired and cease of most fireworks at those moments.”

The decision was made to put up a drone to try to find out where the shots were coming from and who was firing them.

At about the same time, dispatchers told Galindo more residents were calling to report a large crowd fighting and someone firing guns in the air.

The drone couldn’t see any injured people, but it did see some people running and others firing fireworks “just short of the drone,” Galindo wrote in his report.

Dispatchers confirmed they hadn’t received reports of anyone being shot, Galindo wrote.

Now here’s the part of the report that really raised our eyebrows.

Despite knowing there was a huge fight underway, despite knowing guns were being fired, despite knowing the crowd had started at least one fire, despite being offered assistance by state troopers, the call was “cleared.”

That means all of the officers were sent on their merry way.

Here’s how the decision was described in the report:

“Due to no injuries being reported there was no reason to risk officers and patrol cars from being injured or destroyed or the possibility of a gun fight occurring with large crowds.”

Now, do we want officers injured and patrol cars destroyed?

Of course not.

But we’ve got to wonder, wasn’t there a significant chance that by NOT responding to the incident that fight could have escalated and resulted in severe injuries or even death? Wasn’t there a chance that some of those random gunshots could come down and strike an innocent bystander? Wasn’t it just as likely that some of those people firing weapons could have gotten angry enough or drunk enough that they decided to fire at someone rather than in the air?

Frankly, it sounds as though the officers were putting their safety above the residents.

We’re told Snyder Street is a notoriously dangerous neighborhood for law enforcement officers, that a lot of drugs flow through the area and police officers get into more foot pursuits on that street than virtually any other street in Odessa. We’re also told the criminal element far outnumbers the law abiding in that neck of the woods.

Like we said, we sure wouldn’t want to venture into that neighborhood under those circumstances, but at the end of the day, aren’t law enforcement officers paid to enforce the law?

Sure, we wouldn’t want our officers to risk their lives for the misdemeanor crime of shooting off cherry bombs, but that wasn’t the only thing going on that night.

There were literally people fighting in the street, setting fires and shooting firearms!

Moreover, if OPD is willing to just flat out give up on one street or one neighborhood, what’s to prevent them from giving up on your street, your neighborhood?

We sent DPS Sgt. Steven Blanco, their public information officer, Galindo’s report and asked to speak with him or someone from his agency about it.

Not surprisingly, they declined. Instead, they referred us to OPD.

Gerke emailed us a statement on Thursday talking about citizens disregarding the firework ordinance for years and their attempts to educate residents. He assured us OPD values the lives of citizens in every neighborhood, but said this year’s celebration on Snyder was similar to previous years.

“A law enforcement agency must respond appropriately to issues involving large crowds. Any response to a large crowd in a confined area where the crime committed is a class C misdemeanor must be mitigated against the likelihood of escalating the situation,” Gerke said.

The response by officers should change when the seriousness of offenses increases, Gerke continued.

He then acknowledged they screwed up.

”The opinion of the officers from the drone footage was that it did not rise to the level of any additional danger beyond the fireworks. A confirmed instance of shots fired should have changed the response and officers should have responded,” Gerke said.

He then went on to say the incident and the department’s response to firework calls in general are currently under review.

But wait a minute.

Gerke said the officers’ decision was based on the drone footage, but Galindo himself wrote that shots were being fired as he was talking to the DPS officers BEFORE the drone was even sent up.

We’re betting the DPS troopers confirmed shots had been fired within seconds of their arrival.

Oh, and just a reminder, this event took place more than a month ago.

We sure hope this review started before we started looking into it.

We also hope that if and when any disciplinary measures are meted out we won’t have to file a Texas Public of Information Act request to get the details.