On Thursday, I wrote a column about a young man who waited and waited and waited some more for Hartford police to show up after he reported a pickpocketing and then a hit-and-run and then the sound of gunfire on a dark downtown street.
Since then, the calls and e-mails have poured in from readers wanting to share their own tales of less-than-stellar service from the Hartford Police Department:
From the nurse who said her encounter with an ill-mannered cop when trying to find her way around a detour soured her on the city.
"I have had a bad perception of Hartford's police ever since," wrote Noreen Watson.
From the Hartford resident who said calling the indifferent cops in her neighborhood is a waste of time.
And from the man who just a day before Raja Tarabishy's experience with Hartford police witnessed his own hit-and-run on Park Street, only to see at least two cruisers pass right by as he waited more than an hour for an officer to respond.
The stories are all a little different, but at their core is the same thing: dismissive or disrespectful cops and frustrated and angry visitors or residents who've either given up on calling police — or on the city altogether.
"When is the city going to wake up?!?" a reader wrote. "City officials need to realize the need for police and how important that is in keeping its good residents. I for one, can't wait to move out."
Before we go much further, let me repeat what some readers seem to have missed in my last column: No one's suggesting that purse-snatchings and traffic accidents should take precedence over shootings and assaults. There are plenty of good cops in the city. And yes, being a cop in Hartford is hard work.
But if these e-mails and calls are proof of anything, it's that the kind of behavior so many are quick to dismiss as the whinings of soft suburbanites or a cop-bashing columnist is real — and has a real effect.
"It's why I left Hartford," Sandi Sarnese said when we talked last week.
Years ago, Sarnese said, her family ran a business on New Britain Avenue. One night, she called police after spotting a man shining a flashlight into cars in the dark parking lot.
"I called police three or four times and no one ever came," she said.
Four hours after her first call, she finally hoped it was safe enough and ran to her car.
If that had been the only time police failed her, she said, perhaps she would have chalked it up to a busy night.
But then came two break-ins at their business in one their door was kicked in and in the other it was shot open. The cops, she said, just left a card and a note informing them of the obvious: Someone had broken in.
The family, and the business, moved out of Hartford — and Sarnese's negative perception of the city was solidified.
It doesn't have to be this way.
People get that there's crime in a city. They know major crimes are a priority. Even the people who contacted me to share their experiences with police said they could only imagine how overwhelmed or burned out cops in Hartford might be.
But there's no excuse for treating victims of lesser crimes like they're lesser people. No one's expecting the police to undo what's been done — but they do expect some service and a little respect.
And that's really not much to ask.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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