On the police officer firing
January 13, 2022
After closing for the day last Friday, the team at the newspaper gathered around two boxes of pizza and
celebrated our first week with yours truly as the new publisher. Despite equipment malfunctions due to super cold temperatures, the team had managed to produce a quality on-time edition, and we were feeling pretty good about it. We were polishing off our slices and discussing everyone’s snow shoveling plans for the coming weekend when a text message came in, then an email notification, and later another, all asking: Have you seen this story in the Juneau Empire?
We clicked the link and read the story. It was a gut punch. We learned that a Petersburg Police Officer had recently posted a public Facebook comment that included the phrase “...got to raise them reich” with a photo of the officer’s young son wearing a Hitler mustache and performing the stiff-armed Nazi salute. The story made the rounds quickly and, understandably, stirred up some real anger.
A few folks on Friday asked me, Why are we seeing this in Juneau’s paper first and not in the Pilot? A fair question, and one we didn’t yet know the answer to. At the time of reading the story, we were as blindsided as anyone. There was some pressure to repost the story right away, but we opted to tap the brakes, given the fact that the initial story included a compromising photo of an elementary school aged child which the then-officer had himself posted, and a sense that the story left too many questions unanswered.
We know there is some excitement that comes from taking part in pushing out viral content. It’s easy and a bit satisfying to reactively click share, but that’s not what the Pilot is trying to be about. Community journalism moves slower than the internet sometimes and I hope that’s alright. To understand this story, we had to figure out more of the who, when, and why of it.
Personally, I’d never heard of this new and now former officer J.D. Pickle, which is somewhat unusual in Petersburg where you mostly know the local police by name. You see them around often enough, serving in the community, and you get a chance to build some trust. That’s supposed to be one of the comforts of smalltown life: the ability to know and to trust the police, but it’s more than just about comfort. It comes down to accountability. The community entrusts an officer with a gun and a badge and sends them into situations where they will wield a serious imbalance of power. The legitimacy and respectability of local law enforcement depends on officers exercising trustworthy judgement.
I’m glad we were able to hear from J.D. Pickle directly this week in the Pilot. But the actions at the center of this situation speak for themselves. Some residents in Petersburg felt instantly less safe in their own community and less able to trust the intentions and judgement of the local police. We appreciate and support the responsive internal investigation that was conducted by the police department. To have turned a blind eye would not have been acceptable.