City police on Tuesday defended their patrol coverage of Hamilton Hill against claims by a man who said they did not do enough to prevent his being savagely beaten by youths early Monday.
Assistant Police Chief Jack Falvo said police had one car with two officers assigned to patrol Hamilton Hill and downtown from midnight to 8 a.m. Monday. At the time that Anthony Ackerman Sr., 35, of 225 Nott Terrace, was assaulted, the officers were handling a traffic stop at Erie Boulevard and Interstate 890.
Another patrol car was first on scene at the beating incident.
“It is part of their zone, because it overlaps,” Falvo said. “They were there on their own initiative, doing proactive policing. We encourage officers to practice proactive policing, to drive around and investigate circumstances that pique their curiosity.”
Falvo said the department has a minimum of two officers in one car on every shift and does overlap as well. For example, the car that patrols central State Street midnight to 8 a.m. Monday also helps in Woodlawn and Hamilton Hill, he said. Officers can also call upon patrol cars not assigned to zones for help.
This is the department’s standard staffing coverage for the midnight to 8 a.m. shift, said Officer Kevin Green, department spokesman. “Sunday night is not one of our busiest nights. If there are extra people available, we will assign another car to the zones,” he said.
The department steps up staffing for the other two shifts, dedicating a car to Hamilton Hill specifically, police said. Mayor Brian U. Stratton Tuesday said he would prefer to see a car dedicated to the Hill on every shift and plans to look into the issue further to learn why the zone is shared on the overnight shift.
Falvo said police responded to the assault on Ackerman within two minutes of receiving the 911 call. He said a resident witnessed the assault and called at 1:49 a.m. The dispatcher alerted the first car to the scene at 1:50 a.m.; it arrived at 1:52 a.m., he said.
At least five other patrol cars appeared shortly thereafter.
City Councilman Gary McCarthy called the response time good, although he said two minutes is better.
“At Code 3, you can move a car across the city in three minutes,” McCarthy said. “You always want police there when it happens, but overall it is good.”
Ackerman said he plans to sue the city for negligence, alleging police knew there was gang activity in the neighborhood. He said police responded to a 911 call in the same general area four hours before his attack from a person stating he had been attacked by youths. Police never found the first victim, nor any of the youths.
“It’s not the money, it’s the principal. Officers need to do their jobs, and the city needs to stop catering to the police union,” Ackerman said.
City Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden said the city would challenge Ackerman’s claim, saying law enforcement and fire departments are shielded from liability in performing their duties.
Ackerman was attacked on Paige Street at about 1:30 a.m. Monday as he walked home from his job at the Rotterdam Wal-Mart. Police found him unconscious on Summit Avenue, about two blocks away from the initial attack location. They were unable to find the youths. The beating left the lanky Ackerman with a broken nose, 16 stitches in his scalp, blood in his eyes, memory loss and ringing in his right ear.
Ackerman said he was beaten for at least 20 minutes, although he isn’t certain. “One of them sucker-punched me, and I can’t remember anything after that,” he said. The youths never said a word to him, he said.
Falvo said police are unable to determine how long the assault lasted. He said the earlier 911 call came in at 10:07 p.m. Two cars were dispatched at 10:13 p.m. and arrived at Jerry Burrell Park at 10:19 p.m., he said.
“We can’t connect the two assaults. In the first assault, the victim refused to remain on scene, so we couldn’t confirm the assault,” Falvo said. “The dispatcher tried to call him back, but he wouldn’t answer the phone.”
Falvo said there were no prior reports of gang activity in the neighborhood. Hence there was no need to beef up patrols. “We cannot predict when crime will occur, but we do have an idea,” he said.
City police use crime statistics to “drive our activity and our staffing and on where we focus on in the community,” Falvo said. “In actuality, we are assessing our staffing levels and will be increasing them.”
Green said there are known gangs in city. “Whether that was an actual gang or a group of unruly teens, who knows?” he said.
Green said the schools are on break this week, which could explain why the youths were out late. He added parents should know where their children are at night and take responsibility.
McCarthy said he hopes the added attention to the incident will prompt someone to come forward with information on the youths. “It is a tragic situation, but it is the randomness of policing. They can’t always be in the right place at the right time,” he said.
As for Ackerman, he said he still has nightmares about the assault and has difficulty sleeping. “I still see fists hitting my face. Every little sound frightens me, and I am afraid to go out at night,” he said.
Ackerman said he has walked the same 45-minute route from Wal-Mart to his home each day for a year and never had a problem. He works the 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift unloading trucks. He has a license but does not drive because, he said, “I don’t want to pay for gas.”
Hours after he was assaulted, Ackerman Monday night appeared before the City Council, split lip, swollen eyes and all, to make a point, he said. “I wanted them to know how a victim feels. I’m tired of these politicians having no heart for anyone but property owners. They should represent everyone, not just property owners,” he said.
Ackerman calls himself a “decent, hard-working person” who has lived in the city for 27 years. “I never had any problems before, none whatsoever,” he said. “People are afraid about the crime in the city.”
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