I’d like to salute Dennis Butler, the head of the Riley County Police Department, who announced his retirement Monday. He’ll be leaving at the end of next January.
Mr. Butler came here from Ottawa, and promised to stay three years. It was evident at the time he was hired that he might be a relatively short-term director, but the board that governs the police department decided he was worth that risk. He’ll fulfill that promise, and, in my view, justified the board’s decision.
He guided the department through potentially disastrous times, managing to enhance its reputation when it could have turned tragic. That’s a credit not only to Mr. Butler, of course — it’s a credit to all the people who work in the department now, and the people who guided it before, and for that matter the protesters who handled the moment rationally as well. But he was the one in charge when the moment hit.
Think about the context: There’ve been national protests about the police’s treatment of Black people; there have been calls nationwide to “defund the police.” Certainly all of that was relatively mild in Kansas, but here in Manhattan, one of the largest protests in memory could have been a catastrophe. There were 2,000 people marching last June, violating health orders against mass gatherings, speaking out against police violence. The police’s position was to simply ask people to break up big groups, but not to go around arresting people. Good call.
Mr. Butler actually got up and spoke at one of those protests, telling the crowd that the police officers in Minnesota who killed George Floyd should be held accountable for the crime.
“We’re not what you have seen on the news,” he told the crowd. “That’s not who I am, that’s not who these officers are. They are here to serve you, and I am here to make sure they do it the right way. That’s what I ask you to believe.”
He met with the protest organizers. He kept meeting, and talking, and making sure that the fuse to the powder keg never got lit.
That was a very important moment, and Mr. Butler handled it just right.
It’s natural and probably healthy for the police department and the newspaper to butt heads sometimes, and so Mr. Butler and I have had some disagreements. But he has also reached out to make sure that disagreements don’t turn into grudges, or get in the way of the service to the community that both the police and the newspaper provide. I salute him for that, too.
Sorry to see you go so soon, Mr. Butler. But thanks for what you’ve done.