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Policing: Much Talk, But No Callback

COMMENTARY by Helen Ubiñas
September 13, 2005

After Ann Weaver took on Hartford Police Chief Patrick Harnett the other night, I was certain she'd tell me her phone had been ringing off the hook.

A few nights earlier, her hands shaking and voice quivering, she stood to speak to Harnett at a Maple Avenue community meeting. She apologized for bringing her concerns there. But, she said, she had no choice.

"No one calls me back."

Not when she calls about kids jumping the fence to the Goodwin Park pool after hours. Not when she calls about them vandalizing the pool house. Not even the night she watched a bunch of cars park on the wrong side of her street, and knew the occupants were up to no good.

"I live alone and I'm afraid," she said she told the dispatcher. Could they maybe send a cruiser?

Eighteen minutes later, after no one showed up, she called again.

And three days later, at Thursday's meeting, she was still waiting.

It was unclear, though, where Harnett's attention lay that night: the woman nearly hysterical before him, or the writer from the New York Times who was shadowing him. His eyes kept darting between Weaver and the reporter furiously scribbling in her notebook.

And that's the problem. Cops and city officials talk a good game about community policing. Harnett and Mayor Eddie Perez don't miss a chance to tout the plan or their beloved crime statistics. But when it comes to actually putting the plan to practice with the community they are paid to protect and serve, to connecting with the individuals who make up that community, they consistently fall short.

I know you might have thought it's going well, seeing as Assistant Chief Andy Rosenzweig, Harnett's right-hand man in the community policing plan, is leaving. But somehow the message of community relations continues to elude many of Hartford's finest.

Case in point: the two bozos in badges who showed up at a block party hosted by the West End Civic Association a few weeks ago wearing "Stop Snitchin" T-shirts.

Yep, you read that right - at a time when cops are desperate to get residents to talk, when more than a half-dozen homicide cases remain open because of the community's pervasive closed-mouth mentality, two bicycle cops showed up wearing the shirts.

When residents approached them, the cops said it was just a joke. They thought it'd be funny. Yeah, a laugh riot; I'm sure the families still hoping for someone to speak up in their relatives' homicides would think it was hysterical.

By the time supervisors got to them, the cops had the sense to change their story, though their excuse was just as lame: They told their bosses that they were attempting to connect with the neighborhood kids. And their bosses bought it. The cops were counseled and sent on their way.

"Believe me, it won't happen again," said Deputy Chief Daryl K. Roberts.

I appreciated Roberts' input, but if there's one thing you can always count on Hartford cops to do is to outdo themselves.

And when cops continue to act this recklessly, it's no surprise the community doesn't have much faith in Harnett's community policing plan.

After the community meeting, Weaver stood outside hoping for a chance to talk to the chief. She wanted to assure him that she had gone through the proper chain of command before calling him. She doesn't expect the chief of police to deal with every resident complaint.

"I know he has more important things to do," she said.

He did that night. As she waited, Harnett passed by and headed straight to the reporter before jumping in his cruiser and driving away.

And Weaver's phone, she told me Monday, still hasn't rung.

| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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