A deranged black man was holed up again in his third-floor West
End apartment. The last time this happened, he tossed a chemical
substance at the Hartford police officers responding to assist
This time, it was the mental health workers who were getting
nowhere. A police tactical team was called in.
Officer Robert Allan established a rapport with the man, assured
him that no one wanted to harm him and talked him out of injuring
himself or anyone else.
Police Chief Patrick Hartnett and Capt. Jose Lopez, both of
whom witnessed the standoff a few months ago, were impressed.
"He engaged him in conversation and in a very professional
way convinced this man to come out, with the idea of `we want
to help you, we're not here to hurt you,'" Harnett said. "And
the individual listened to him, and he wouldn't listen to the
mental health professionals he had dealt with before."
This wasn't the first time Allan had impressed the brass. Now,
six years after fatally shooting a fleeing African American teen
in a dark North Hartford lot - and being cleared in three separate
investigations - Allan was promoted to sergeant this week.
This is worth saying again: Oh my!
Make that: Oh, no!
At a time when the HPD is starting yet another neighborhood
effort to engender trust and credibility, they elevate a man
whose mere name in North Hartford conjures up every stereotype
imaginable of white police officers.
Racist. Trigger-happy. Thugs-with-guns.
The teen Allan shot, Aquan Salmon, the suspect in a robbery
earlier that night, was found to be unarmed. There were two gun-shaped
cigarette lighters at the scene. Allan's decisions that night
not to wait for backup or simply back off are still suspect.
If anything has plagued Hartford's police force over the years,
it has been the dubious judgment of its poorly supervised officers.
The department's supervisors have come under scrutiny for their
officers' decisions, from recklessly chasing a motor vehicle
and killing a bystander, to sexually assaulting prostitutes while
on duty, to retaliating against a colleague blowing the whistle
on internal corruption.
Three decades after a consent decree challenged the city to
improve its hiring and promotion practices and to take steps
to build respect in community, Allan's promotion is a kick in
Yeah, he was cleared. And, yes, he deserves a fresh start. But
not in Hartford. His credibility in the North End is pretty much
"I'm uncomfortable with this," says Amaechi Ezeugwu,
a Nigerian who was making repairs to his three-family home Friday
on Enfield Street, near where Aquan was shot. "Police are
supposed to be here for the people. They do not care. We are
sub-human in their eyes."
The young men hanging out on adjacent Mather Street uttered
profane responses when they learned of Allan's elevation.
"It's a lack of respect for the community," said Everett
Walker. "They're basically saying `go ahead and shoot the
next one.' The most important thing is what message this sends
to the police. Because they're going to feel like they can get
away with anything."
Allan is a liability in a city that has settled millions of
dollars in lawsuits against cops using bad judgment. The level
of scrutiny he'll incur is unfair to him, his colleagues and
the taxpayers. If he shoots again, the whispers that he's a cowboy
will grow louder. If he doesn't shoot, but should have, he risks
putting himself or others in danger. And if Allan happens to
be having a bad day and takes it out on some unsuspecting citizens,
the questions about his temperament will pop up again.
At Thursday's swearing-in, there were no such concerns. Allan
received a rousing ovation from cops, their families and friends.
Mind you, this was one of the most ethnically diverse sergeant
classes in recent memory.
Black, white and Latino cops I talked to said it would be patently
unfair to deny Allan a promotion, particularly since he was cleared
of any wrongdoing. Allan politely declined comment.
The quote of the day was "it's
time to move on."
"He deserves an opportunity to be successful," says
Lopez, who has supervised Allan the past two years. "He's
been reduced to one incident. ...He takes a lot of pride in his
work. He's very dedicated."
Robert Nelson, president of
The Guardians, the black officers' fraternal organization,
says he believes the investigations into the shooting were
fair and that Allan "acted appropriately."
When it comes to an incident like the Aquan shooting, cops close
ranks. If put in a similar situation, they don't know how they'd
What can never be measured is Allan's mindset that night. After
all, he was a young cop jacked up on adrenaline and fear in a
neighborhood in which folks didn't look like him.
His colleagues are right about one thing. After six years, and
three investigations, it is time for Robert Allan to move on.
And out of Hartford
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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