Let me see if I get this: The New Haven Police Department wants the assistance of a public relations firm to improve its image? If this is the best the new chief, Frank Limon, can do, he ought to be sent back to Illinois with a foot print or two emblazoned on his hind quarter. You just can't expect to mistreat people and then have a PR firm wave a magic wand and call it goodness and light.
The police in New Haven suffer a poor image because many of them strut the streets behaving like nasty pimps out to discipline their girls. Of course, the courts permit the police to do this. It is becoming almost impossible to get a police misconduct case to a jury. The judicial activists on the right have staged a quiet coup: new doctrines like quality immunity require judges to wink at all but the most blatant and egregious abuse. A slap or two hear, verbal abuse there -- all this is not only tolerated, increasingly it appears to be expected by a judiciary that almost never appears in public without being greeted as "Your Honor."
For the most part, we turn our heads when the cops go goosestepping down our streets. But they turned up at a Yale University eventnot long ago, bringing their attitudes with them. When privileged young men and women felt the law's sting, people got upset. Picking on anonymous people of color is one thing; but slap a Yalie and it becomes national news.
Th police raided a private party in New Haven. It was part of a crackdown in the city's nightclub district. As officers swarmed, party goers wondered why a SWAT team was needed. Police ordered the kids to put their cell phones away. A few refused. So officers moved in with force: At least one young man, a member of the Yale football team from Palo Alto, California, was tasered and later taken to the hospital.
Complaints have been swarming into the police station lately about cops swearing, swaggering and strutting around the club district as though they were God's bouncers seeking to rid the human race of kids having a good time. It took the arrest of a Yalie or two to make it news.
The sad fact of the matter is that the arrests of these kids were probably justified, given how easy it is to break a law written in such broad terms that anyone who questions authority is transformed into a criminal. In Connecticut, the crime of interfering with a police officer involves no more than obstructing, hindering or delaying an officer in the performance of his duties. Say "Yes, sir" in the wrong tone and you're interfering. The only safe response is to bend and spread.
Police officers know this, and they know that the courts will back them if a person decides to fight back in the courts. In the criminal courts, prosecutors will often agree to drop charges of interfering, but only if a person agrees not to sue the police, either by so stating, or stipulating to the fact that police officers had probable cause to arrest. Those folks who make it to a federal court for a civil suit for false arrest face a judiciary prepared to give police officers the benefit of the doubt. It's a cop's world on the city's streets, and the cops know there is little any jury can do about it. Human nature being what it is, the cops take advantage of the fact that the game is stacked in their favor.
Chief Limon must be smart enough to realize this. Lord knows, he came rolling into New Haven with credentials suggesting he's no fool. He was former chief of the River Forest, Ill. police department. Before that, he played in the big leagues of law enforcement, serving as the chief of the Chicago Police Department’s Organized Crime Division and as assistant deputy superintendent, Bureau of Strategy and Accountability; assistant deputy superintendent, Bureau of Operational Services and commander of the 13th District, Patrol Division. Limon can goosestep with the best of them.
So what's this tripe about a PR firm trying to help the police department communicate more effectively with the media and community? Does the city need to spend $20,000 to learn that you get the respect you deserve? Limon needs to get out of the office a little more; he needs to learn the city he's paid to protect. He needs to learn that at times the city needs protection from the police patroling the streets.
For decades, police conduct in the club district has been a source of complaints. Patrons of bars aren't exactly seeing straight when the clubs close. Too often extra duty cops are more inclined to crack heads than shake hands with rowdy patrons. Come Monday morning, telephones ring in the city, with angry club goers calling lawyers to ask what can be done about the knuckle-dragging cretins wearing badges and guns and strutting the streets. Rowdy cops aren't goodwill ambassadors.
The city should sit on the $20,000 it is offering to the winner of a request for public relations proposals. Spend the money on something else. No one in New Haven will be fooled by a fancy press release. The streets will still be mean when no one is looking. Cops will still slap a kid if they think they can get away with it. Chief Limon needs to throw something other money at the attitude many officers bring to the streets. A good chief leads by example, not be spending. Is Limon a good chief?