We were surprised this week when we heard that Lt. Ryan Engle, a 20-plus-year veteran of the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, was forced to resign after he was caught on video stealing several granola bars.
Our first thought – like yours, perhaps – was, “Boom, career over, because of ... a few snack bars? That seems excessive.”
But it is not.
In 2017, Engle took part in a marijuana-cultivation bust. Recently, a homeowner who was the subject of that bust found a recording from his security camera that showed Engle in the garage during it, pilfering his granola bars.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation looked into the matter, as did the Sheriff’s Office, which led to Engle being suspended. Had he stayed with the force, defense attorneys would have been notified of his offense, which would have made it difficult if not impossible for him to testify at criminal trials. Resigning was the best way out.
Should the alleged marijuana cultivator have kept his trap shut? We cannot say. It must have been odd, though, for Engle to have seen himself, almost a year later, grabbing those treats – an act so seemingly casual that we wonder if he remembered doing it, although we hope he did. His attorney said he fully cooperated with the investigations.
We said Engle was forced to resign. He was forced by his own behavior. We hold police officers to a high standard. And we should.
We may circumvent the laws in small ways ourselves every day. We might park at a meter at 5:40 p.m. on a weekday, put no money in, and think, No one is going to catch us. We might make an illegal U-turn or change lanes without signaling, if we think no one else is around to see. However, let a police car do the same thing in our sight and we wonder, Just who do they think they are? Why would they, of all people, think they are above the law?
We can be cynical about police. We often hear about bad cops, corrupt cops, cops who shoot when they should not.
Owing to sensational incidents and real lapses in judgment and policies, there is a progressive movement in the U.S. that is against policing, period.
At the same time, while we seldom have to call 911, we, like most Americans, walk around with the security of knowing that if we must punch those three digits, someone will answer. It is a luxury not easily purchased.
We also believe that most police officers in most places hold themselves to high standards even in the small things.
“The principle behind it is that it doesn’t make a difference if it’s $5 or $5,000,” said 6th Judicial District Attorney Christian Champagne, whose office dropped charges against Engle when he resigned.
“We expect ... our officers are going to operate to the highest standards of honesty and integrity, and any slip can’t be looked past.”
Engle’s resignation is an unfortunate end to a long career, but he and we can also be satisfied by the good it does. Part of that good is knowing that we are all entitled to hold Sheriff Sean Smith and his office members to the same high standard. And that is not bad at all.