Web Sites, Documents and Articles >> Hartford Courant News Articles >

Cops' Disdain Won't Regain People's Trust

COMMENTARY by Helen Ubiñas
April 10, 2005

Truth is, I was feeling pretty optimistic on my way to the second of three meetings last week about the city's latest anti-gun campaign.

Sure, the first one - a press conference at city hall - was a bit of a dog and pony show.

But it's not every day groups across the city get behind one cause. And at the meeting I was headed to just a couple hours later Thursday, the usual suspects were being joined by big guns on the state and federal level.

If even half of the ideas people were throwing around actually happened, I thought on the drive over to the Rajun Cajun restaurant, this effort might actually have a shot.

I was just approaching a crowd on the sidewalk at Main and Belden when I heard screeching tires behind me: A police cruiser had jerked to a stop, missing my bumper by inches. The crowd turned toward the noise as the cop jumped out and five other police cars raced up, filling the street with cruisers parked at all angles.

"Who wants to be the first one to suck it up?" the cop yelled, shaking a canister of pepper spray toward the rapidly dispersing crowd.

And then he and the other officers ran into a nearby house, ignoring the people asking, "What are you looking for?"

It was hard to hear what the cops were shouting when they were rushing into the house. As they left, I heard Officer Pepper Spray tell a woman, "Hey, 11-year-olds have guns."

No one in the house had one, she retorted. That didn't improve his temper. "Somebody gets killed, then somebody gets killed," he yelled dismissively. And then the cops drove off.

They had come and gone in minutes. But the impression they left on the street will last a long time.

"This is how they always are," one girl who told me her name was Nadine said, watching the cops speed off. "They come in here treating us like we're all garbage."

I didn't get the cops' names; they were moving too fast. And to be honest, I didn't want to interrupt what was unfolding before me. In those few moments, I was getting to see what residents have told me about for years: Hartford's finest showing a total disregard for the people they are paid to protect and serve.

The next day I called the police department looking for the names of the officers on Belden Street so I could get their side of the story. When police spokeswoman Nancy Mulroy finally got back to me at the end of the day, she referred me to Deputy Chief Daryl Roberts, who didn't return several calls.

I know what many of you must be thinking. I was thinking the same thing: Maybe they were responding to a report of shots fired; maybe they had reason to act the way they did. But the call came from the nearby firehouse, reporting a group of kids who looked like they were going to fight.

And while cops have to take control of a scene quickly, once these officers did that, they blew the opportunity to talk to people, to explain what they were doing, to connect in some way. Instead, they took off and left everyone behind with a sour taste in their mouths.

I thought about that as I sat in the meeting a little while later listening to people talk about their ambitious plans to get guns off the street. U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor talked about the need to gather intelligence. Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano called the gathering a great opportunity. And just about everyone talked about the need for the community to get involved.

Law enforcement brass can talk about gathering intelligence, but how much intelligence will these cops get with these cowboy tactics? They can talk about collaboration, but how collaborative is it for cops to act like bullies? And they can turn the finger of accountability on residents, but they have to turn it on police as well.

When talking about problems in cities, people inevitably get to the broken windows theory: Signs of blight such as broken windows going unrepaired lead to more broken windows and eventually to an atmosphere where crime thrives.

Well, it's time to deal with something else that's broken - trust. That one's not a theory, though: If cops continue to treat people the way they did on Belden Street, not even the best violence prevention effort stands a chance.

Helen Ubiñas' column appears Thursdays and Sundays. She can be reached at Ubinas@courant.com.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
Powered by Hartford Public Library  

Includes option to search related Hartford sites.

Advanced Search
Search Tips

Can't Find It? Have a Question?