In what has become a regular ritual at City Council meetings, residents organized a group to complain about the police during Monday’s privilege of the floor.
After listening to more than an hour of complaints, City Council members expressed frustration at the fact that some officers seem to be adding fuel to the fire by using foul language during otherwise textbook arrests, or ignoring phone calls instead of simply telling victims that they haven’t yet solved the crime.
“I believe it is a small number of officers, but they’re giving the whole force a bad name,” said Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard. “This is not the first time I’ve heard in the past few months of similar behavior.”
Residents said police shouted curse words at a bystander when he interrupted them as they were chasing down his grandson on drug charges. Others said police aren’t taking non-violent crimes seriously. Many of the speakers were organized by ACORN, a national neighborhood activism group attempting to build local chapters in the Capital Region.
One woman described with painful detail the months she spent trying to get police to investigate a burglary.
Carol Rogers said police were called as soon as the burglary was discovered at her house, and that within a day she gave officers a list of 149 stolen items, with photos for 137 of them. A detective left a phone message for her two days after the burglary, but when she tried to return his call, she could only reach his voicemail.
After eight days of calling, she left a message telling him she would call his supervisors if he didn’t call her back.
“He called me back in 10 minutes,” she said, adding that the detective claimed to not have understood her phone number in her earlier messages. Her response: he’d called her first — and her number was listed on her incident report.
“I could tell on the phone nothing had been reviewed. He was asking questions, I could hear envelopes being opened. He hadn’t looked at anything I’d provided,” she told the council.
It took two months before the police gave her the incident report needed for her insurance claim, and she said she only got that after calling Chief Mark Chaires.
Council members said they would again look into police behavior. They focused on the allegations of foul language.
“The language is just unbelievable,” said Councilman Joseph Allen. “There must be a new crew of police who think they can conduct themselves that way. I thought we were beyond that.”
Councilman Thomas Della Sala added, “I am certainly disheartened by some of the things we heard tonight. It just keeps repeating itself.”
Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett vehemently defended the police, saying that officers are investigating the cursing incident and the possibility of excess force in restraining the teenager as he fought with police.
“If the police department hadn’t started an investigation, then they would have something to complain about,” he said.
He described the investigation as “very big” and said he would make the findings public after all witnesses are interviewed. Some have skipped their appointments, he added. He declined to say whether police car cameras recorded the scene.
He also noted that police have arrested 10 burglars in recent days.
“That’s in the newspaper. But that’s not said here. Where’s the balance? It’s a one-way street, and I am not given any chance to respond,” he said.
As for incidents of foul language, he said police are told to be professional — but he questioned whether residents are holding them to an reasonable standard.
“When they’re being spit at and cursed at, are they supposed to be courteous even then?” he said. “I think people have to be realistic. ... Some of the people we arrest are extremely difficult people.”
Councilman Mark Blanchfield said police should simply never curse. He added that the council has been advised to settle many excess-force lawsuits because the video evidence of police cursing would have imperiled an otherwise open-and-shut case in which the officer had made a proper arrest.
“When you’re in public life and you’re dealing with the public, you’re expected to mind your language,” Blanchfield said. “I don’t think that has to be said more than once.”