Boise Police Department
News Release

Michael F. Masterson
Chief of Police


Contact: Lynn Hightower
Communications Director
570-6180

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Chief urges Idaho Congressional delegation to Enhance Services for Vets

02-03-10 Chief urges Idaho Congressional delegation to Enhance Services for Vets

    Boise, Feb. 3, 2010 - Boise Chief of Police Michael Masterson sent a letter to Idaho's congressional delegation last week urging them to help enhance services to local veterans who may be suffering mentally or emotionally from combat.

    In the letter, sent Jan. 21, 2010 to all four of Idaho's members in Congress, Chief Masterson cited a case from last summer when a confrontation between a veteran and officers resulted in shots fired. Chief Masterson says the officers had no way of knowing, under immanent threat of gunfire, the suspect was a decorated war veteran with diagnosed combat related stress. The Chief cites his concerns that this case may not be isolated, and refers to recent news reports of increased suicides among younger veterans.

    In his letter, Chief Masterson said, whatever the issues and explanations, he's concerned that without more careful identification and treatment, these individuals may indeed pose a threat to their own safety and that of their families and community. The Chief believes it's important to take leadership on this issue, to try and get needed help to struggling veterans before another situation escalates to violence.

    The letter (each was addressed to individual Representatives and Senators) is attached and pasted below:

 

January 21, 2010

Representative ___

Washington DC 20515

Dear ,

Several Boise Police officers were confronted recently by an armed man later identified as a military veteran. Issues revealed to myself, my officers and the community since then prompts me to share some concerns with you.

On July 28, 2009, Boise Police responded to a call from a woman stating a man with a "machine gun" was at her front door demanding to be let in. Police dispatchers heard gunshots and the woman said the man had broken down the door of the apartment across the hall. As officers arrived, they heard another gunshot and saw the armed man ducking in and out of the broken doorway.

The officers called to the man to peacefully surrender and tried to engage him in conversation, offering help if he would put the gun down. Instead the man used, what appeared to be "military tactics" and a bright light to spotlight the officer's positions and aim a handgun in their direction. Four officers fired. None of the shots hit the man as he used the doorway for cover. After the officers fired, the man surrendered.

In a report released January 13, 2010, the Boise Community Ombudsman wrote: "Considering all that these officers personally witnessed and were told, any reasonable officer in similar circumstances would believe that his life, the lives of his fellow officers, and the life of the calling party were in immediate danger from a deadly threat. Given the totality of the circumstances and the subject's lack of compliance with repeated commands to show his hands and surrender, the use of deadly force in response to this imminent threat to human life was both reasonable and necessary."

The armed man currently sits in the Ada County Jail awaiting sentencing on felony charges. He is George G. Nickel, Jr., 38, a decorated Iraqi war veteran. Unbeknownst to my officers at the time, Mr. Nickel is the sole survivor of an explosion in Iraq that killed three other Idaho U.S. Army Reservists. Mr. Nickel was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for bravery in Iraq.

Mr. Nickel has also been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in Iraq.

Following the media publicity of Mr. Nickel's Iraqi war experience and subsequent revelation of his diagnosis, my office received numerous emails and phone calls from citizens and veterans groups highly critical of the officers' actions. Each citizen wanted to know how the officers could justify shooting at a war hero.

I responded to each call and email. I described our department's Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), a large group of officers specially trained to respond to individuals in emotional or mental crisis. I explained to the concerned citizens that we work with the Boise VA Hospital and local veterans support groups to identify veterans in need and connect them with those who can provide them with services. I also explained that, like our veterans, my officers have chosen to serve and protect their community, and that means taking decisive action when faced with an immediate and violent threat to themselves and fellow citizens. The officers did not know who Mr. Nickel was, nor about his military background, and Mr. Nickel's actions did not give the officers time to find out.

What I cannot explain is how the military identifies and treats psychological disorders, and why there appears to be a lack of such identification and treatment. Mr. Nickel's case may or may not be isolated. I have no way to track the number of veterans who, for any number of reasons, come into contact with my officers. I am aware of a recent case where officers were called to respond to a man later identified as a veteran, armed with a shotgun threatening suicide. Fortunately, that case was resolved peacefully. There are, however, indications that veterans struggling with war-related emotional issues are growing in number and severity. A recent study by the Veteran's Affairs Department (published by the Associated Press, January 11, 2010) shows the suicide rate among young veterans has increased significantly.

I have many veterans in my own police department. I share with them a pride in the service they delivered to their country and the service they continue to provide to the citizens of Boise. I also share with citizens a sincere concern for veterans struggling with combat-related disorders, who are in need of professional assistance and for whatever reason, are not getting it. I have been told by veterans, including my own officers, that there are perceived barriers within the military that inhibit individuals from self-disclosing emotional issues, ranging from fear of being labeled, to being passed over for promotion. Veterans tell me military evaluators screening those leaving the service are overwhelmed with sheer numbers, no time is made for thorough screens, and critical post-combat evaluations are offered but not required.

And sadly, the struggles don't appear to be new. Again, just within my own police department, an employee recently revealed the emotional struggles he was aware of with vets who served in World War II and Vietnam.

Whatever the issues and explanations, I am concerned that without more careful identification and treatment, these individuals may indeed pose a threat to their own safety and that of their families and community. My greatest concern is Mr. Nickel's case is not isolated, and other police officers, not only in Boise but in Idaho and across the nation will be forced to confront a troubled veteran with weapons drawn. Any or all those involved will be chastised for doing what they felt they must for self-preservation or public safety, and worse, the outcome will be lives lost.

One citizen who wrote me said, "These veterans are our people. We need to care for them like they took care of us!"

As a Chief of Police of Idaho's largest and Capital City, I urge you to work with all branches of our military, our Veteran's Affairs groups and VA hospitals, and strive to improve and expand the safety net that must cover our veterans. It is the duty of the country they served to now serve and protect them, and indeed enhance their opportunities as they rejoin civilian life.

Thank you for your time and service you give to the citizens of Idaho.

Sincerely,

 

Michael F. Masterson

Chief of Police