Written by: Sam Orlando
BEND, OREGON - In a case that highlights ongoing concerns about police conduct and the handling of internal investigations, former Bend Police Officer Kevin Uballez was terminated last week, marking the conclusion of a protracted and costly episode that has sparked debate over the system's effectiveness in addressing alleged misconduct within its ranks.
Uballez's dismissal comes after an incident dating back to June 2021, when he was accused of using excessive force against Caleb Hamlin, a 42-year-old construction worker from Colville, Washington. The encounter, which lacked bodycam footage from Uballez due to equipment unavailability at the time, led to charges of fourth-degree assault and harassment. Despite these charges being later dropped, the Bend Police Department persisted with an internal investigation, culminating in Uballez's recent dismissal.
The drawn-out administrative leave of Uballez, lasting over two and a half years, has incurred substantial costs, with the officer receiving more than $184,000 during this period. This substantial payout, made in the absence of active duty, raises significant questions about the financial and ethical implications of prolonged administrative leaves in cases of alleged police misconduct.
The lack of immediate and transparent action following the incident not only casts a shadow on the department's commitment to accountability but also underscores a broader issue within law enforcement agencies. The practice of placing officers on extended paid leave, often referred to colloquially as "paid vacation," suggests a systemic reluctance to address and rectify instances of misconduct decisively. This approach not only burdens taxpayers but also erodes public trust in the institutions meant to serve and protect them.
As the Bend community and observers nationwide reflect on Uballez's case, it becomes increasingly evident that reform is needed. The absence of bodycam footage in the incident with Hamlin points to the necessity of equipping all officers with body-worn cameras to ensure transparency and accountability. Furthermore, the financial toll and the perceived lack of urgency in resolving cases of alleged misconduct call for a reevaluation of policies regarding administrative leave and internal investigations.
The Uballez case, therefore, is not just an isolated incident but a symptomatic example of the challenges facing modern policing. It compels law enforcement agencies, policymakers, and the public to engage in a critical dialogue about the mechanisms of accountability, the allocation of resources, and the imperative to uphold the principles of justice and trust that are foundational to the social contract between the police and the communities they serve.