Monday, January 31, 2011

The Police and The Community

Last Friday I received another anonymous letter and opened it wearily. I get letters about once a month, old fashioned snail mail ones, filled with lunatic ramblings and misspellings common to one of our less literate civic activists and I fully expected this to be the same, but it wasn't.

It was a coherent, well written copy of a letter to the City Manager pointing out that while our police chief has been given $5,000 in city funds to attend a formal banquet, the Seven Islands Chiefs Dinner on February 24, neither he nor his command staff could find the time to represent North Bay Village at the funeral last week of the two slain police officers.

Unfortunately, it was anonymous. I wish it had not been for two reasons. People have to start stepping forward and be willing to put their names to things. The second reason is that there are a number of people who will assume I wrote it. I wish I had but I didn't. I would have signed it. In any event, the letter is at the end of this post.

The City Manager replied very quickly to my inquiry about this letter and told me that the Chief was in an arbitration hearing that day, and that two officers had represented the city at the funeral.

The more I read this letter, the more I realized how much this contrast, the money to go to a social event and the no show at the funerals illustrates the problems with Chief Daniels. He doesn't seem to understand that as chief, he has a duty to the community at large.

Attending the funeral and paying the department's respects to these two slain officers is not just a "nice" thing to do. It reinforces to our own police that when bad things happen, including the very worst, that the department cares and represents. The absence speaks loudly in a way that sending lower ranking members of the PD does not. At a bare minimum, it should have been the command staff who represented.

In North Bay Village, the conspicuous absence of the chief as a member of our community has been much commented on. I am aware that our vice mayor has been hearing voices telling her that the police are doing a terrific job, but the people who have spoken to me say different things. "Why are there no community meetings?" "Isn't he supposed to present at the commission meetings?" "Six months after the Meet The Chief was cancelled, why wasn't it rescheduled?" Probably the most common question I hear is "What are we getting for our money?" and that question has never been answered by the Chief. He's never published or presented the monthly statistics from the Uniform Crime Reports and any activity reports.

Within the police department, there is growing concern over trivial investigations designed to punish perceived enemies, a lack of transparency in decision making, and unnecessary promotions. A common refrain is that the chief is tied in very closely with his perceived support base on the commission and anything that contradicts these political ends will be punished. This is not just one or two cops, almost weekly someone from the PD has a quiet conversation with me, the gist of which is "You don't know the half of it."

See, the thing is, North Bay Village really exists at all because the residents like and respect our police department, even when we get tickets or the kids get in trouble. We see our city as safer and more livable because of the police and I would venture to say that if a serious effort were proposed to eliminate local policing, the politician who supported the effort would wind up being the one eliminated. I'd probably be the one leading that charge to eliminate the politician.

We ask a lot from our police. We expect them to be vigilant about crime, quick to respond, able to use their judgment to keep our city livable. We expect them to be friendly even when they're not having the best day. And we expect them to protect us. Regardless of the strife in the police department in the past and the current climate of secrecy, the NBV PD has always come through for us.

As citizens, we owe the police a good working environment with a chief who leads by respect, with a chief who understands the difference between "gotcha" investigations and discretion, with a chief who stands proudly as his department's symbol and who stands humbly as the community's servant. Instead, it seems like we have a remote force, alienated from the community being served.

Another thing I hear from citizens is some variation of the police are paid too well or treated too generously to which I always respond, "Not true and not true." Residents need to understand that we ask a lot of these professionals, including our expectation that we will have professional and dedicated officers We will attract the kind of individuals who could work elsewhere but choose to be here. This costs. I don't want cut rate security.

As regards the salaries and benefits, a long time budget trick with all public employees was to promise future benefits against current raises. The pensions and the benefit packages grew while wages stood stagnant. The police agreed to go along with this promise. There is an issue, locally and nationwide, over the price of these deferred costs in tougher times. It's a real issue but it is not a police issue. It's our issue as taxpayers and voters. We are the ones who agreed to this and we are the ones who need to find a way to live up to our commitments. The social contract demands this. In the future, we have to be more prudent but these are promises we made, and like an individual, a community is only as good as its word.

Finally, I would remind the chief, a newcomer to this town, that the same group loudly praising him now are the same people who cut the pensions, cut the benefits, voted to lay off cops rather than dip into the red light funds, praised and defended Roland Pandolfi and are now disparaging him. This is not a support base you want to cultivate.

Kevin Vericker
February 1, 2011

Police Chief Complaint About the Funeral

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