Wednesday, April 25, 2001
Silence of the elected
On April 17, The Enterprise got word that Sgt. Bruce Brending of the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department had been arrested in Hood River County on March 19 and charged with driving under the influence of intoxicants.
Brending, who was off-duty at the time of the incident, subsequently entered a guilty plea to the DUII charge in Circuit Court in Hood River. That was on March 29.
Because the arrest occurred in a different county and a different state, The Enterprise did not learn of the month-old incident until a newspaper reporter from Oregon inquired about the lack of coverage.
Brending is a professional law enforcement officer who certainly ought to know better than to get behind the wheel after having too much to drink. The judge obviously thought so too: Brending will be on probation for a year, and without his driver's license for a year. He will also have to pay a $1,000 fine, and provide 80 hours of community service. He will be required to meet with the families of victims of drunk drivers.
It's clear that Brending has paid a steep price for his error in judgment.
However, there is more to the case than appears in a court report. That is, Brending's overall record as a police officer has been very good. That is demonstrated by his recent winning of White Salmon's "Employee of the Year" award for 2000, as well as his September 2000 promotion, against a competitive field, to police sergeant.
Further, in December, Brending single-handedly confronted and arrested an armed bank robber coming out of Sterling Savings Bank with a bag full of stolen cash.
In short, Brending has a solid record, and the view here is that he deserves another chance, as well as support from the community as a whole, provided he successfully completes his alcohol rehabilitation program. That program, which Brending began last week, is expected to last approximately four weeks.
Police officers make mistakes, as we all do. They are in a high-stress profession, and because of their visible role in the community, tend to be in the public eye more than those in most other professions.
Brending is certainly not the only person in the community who has been pulled over for DUII. But he is probably in the minority in that he voluntarily agreed to seek help for his drinking problem, and that is to his credit.
There is a larger story in this incident, however, and it is this: We question why none of the elected public officials who knew of Brending's arrest, including White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen, Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel, and all the members of the White Salmon City Council, shared that information with The Enterprise.
Apparently, no one thought the arrest of a city police officer was serious enough to advise the local newspaper. That's unfortunate, because they were elected to be public servants.
We don't agree that the case is simply a private personnel matter. The actions of a police officer -- especially with a relatively small police force such as the one that serves Bingen and White Salmon -- are vital public information.
Mayor Holen says the incident with Brending is a "personnel matter," but that's only half right. The other half of the equation is this: the public deserves to know the facts when a police officer does something wrong, as well as when he or she does something that's positive.
For example, we were called well in advance when Brending was going to be named employee of the year. That was certainly a significant news item, and we were glad to report it. But the unpleasant stories have to be told as well.
The Enterprise is not a City Hall newsletter, here to report good news only. A newspaper's job is to record meaningful events, good and bad and in-between.
No one here wishes anything bad for Brending. He's been a good cop, and he will find support from The Enterprise and, probably, within most of the community as well as he works to overcome a very human problem.
But we are certainly disappointed with the lack of enlightenment from our elected officials.