Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"It's absolutely vital that the community is part of the crime fighting effort," Riley said. "But more important is that it trusts the police..."

Many of you have emailed me about my last post. Thanks for your concern and support.

I did, in fact, try to follow up on the case, but ran into a problem: the rude buttholes who staff the Fifth District police station.

The poor relations between the NOPD and the public are by now notorious, but by all published and broadcasted accounts, the NOPD has been working at repairing their "public image." As you'll read in the letter I penned after trying to communicate with the Fifth District, though, (and as you can read in this post by Dangerblond [a blogger whose writing I really enjoy]), this ain't workin'.

Funny (or not so funny) thing: when I emailed this letter to the address published on the City of New Orleans Website--the address provided after I followed links to the "Citizen Complaint Procedure" page--it was returned to me as a failed message.

Of course, the irony of that would be lost on them, completely.

Me, it makes sick.

I did, however, come across this very detailed and user-friendly crime map. So far, the stats go up to 7/9--the day before our report. I'll keep checking back to see what becomes of the call we made, statistically-speaking.

Anyway, it looks like I shall have to rely on the mail of the snail to get my complaint heard. Given the dead-end I've already come upon, I don't have any confidence that my letter will make it into human hands.

(Another not-so-funny thing: the paragraph that precedes the dead-end email address on the City website reads, "In order for the NOPD to effectively function in ridding the city of crime and disorder, it is essential that the public has confidence in the integrity of its law enforcement effort. To maintain this confidence, the Department of Police provides a means to investigate and adjudicate complaints made against its members by the community which it serves. Grievances will be thoroughly and impartially handled." Ha, ha, f-ing HA!!)

I may just have to hand-deliver the thing. Even so, I can just see the officers laughing at my expectations. She thinks we're going to communicate with her?! She thinks we should CALL?! Over some trespassing! PSHAW! Gawd, it makes me sick to think of, but I don't think my assumption is off. At. All.

Here's my letter:

To the Commander of the NOPD Public Integrity Division:

On the night of July 10th, at around midnight, my husband I awoke to an intruder in our backyard (in the 2800 block of N. Rampart Street). I called 911, and much to my surprise, had a nearly-immediate response. Evidently the intruder had been pulled over for a traffic violation on St. Claude, and so the police were already in the area but had lost track of him. It was the military police who pursued the intruder, and the military who communicated with us. The two military officers were kind and helpful. I wish I could say the same for the NOPD.

After the suspect was apprehended (from the yard of our neighbors across the street,) the military police left. The NOPD was about to pull away when my husband approached the car to ask about what had happened. He explained that we were the ones who'd placed the call to 911. The officers seemed surprised--as though they'd not known who we were--and exited the car to search our property (they found a watch but no contraband). It seemed odd that they had not planned to interact with us at all. The only interaction we had with the NOPD after this harrowing experience, and after our call (a call which resulted in an arrest), came per our initiation.

But I am not writing to complain about that interaction.

I am writing because both my husband and I placed calls to the Fifth District Station--and both of us were treated rudely. I don't think a detailed account of the call is necessary. The bottom line is that we both had two incident report numbers related to the arrest made after our call, and we were calling to follow up on them. We were told that the suspect had been arrested for trespassing.

No one we spoke to knew the name of the arresting officer. No one had any additional advice for how to find out more about the case, other than to (and I quote), "Go to the Municipal Court and find out yourself." We spoke to a male and a female that night--both of whom interrupted us repeatedly, and both of whom acted as though we were somehow stupid to think that calling for more information would result in any real information being attained.

Evidently, their attitudes toward us reflect a reality--one that we weren't privy to: there is, indeed, no point in calling to follow up on a case, as no one at the Fifth District (unless they, themselves, are the arresting officer) will have a shred of information to share. If this is the case, I nonetheless think it is vital that the officers at the phones communicate in a respectful manner.

When I lived in Atlanta many years ago, our house was burglarized. The DeKalb County Police called us some weeks later when the suspect was apprehended. We were given the suspect's name and a case number. We found that call deeply reassuring--as well as surprising. Imagine that: a police force who demonstrated a real understanding of the importance of clear communication with residents impacted by crime.

I understand that the NOPD is stretched thin these days. I attend neighborhood meetings regularly and have met captains from the Fifth District. I do not doubt that those who are doing their best are, in fact, doing their best.

But to simply require officers (or perhaps station administrators) to treat citizens with respect and dignity should not be considered the "best" work of the police force's "finest."

Treating citizens with respect--which will indeed sometimes require patience and understanding that is hard to come by in this post-Katrina New Orleans (as a teacher I know this very, very well)--should be a pre-requisite; it is something that even the most inexperienced officers should be able to call part of their expertise. If this is not the case, then I find it no wonder that the distrust of the public for the NOPD is so astronomically high.

It's a no-brainer that clear and helpful communication with citizens (especially with victims) would result in a greater sense of trust from the citizenry of New Orleans. I think the officers on night-duty at the Fifth District could stand to be reminded of this very obvious and plain truth. While they may not have had any more information to offer, there was no reason to be dismissive and rude to crime-victims--especially when the cooperation of those victims led to an arrest.

I believe strongly that if there were more citizens out there--citizens like my husband and myself--who were proactive about crime, there would be less of it in our neighborhoods. However, after the treatment we received, it is easy for me to understand how distrust of the NOPD could so quickly take root, and how that distrust could lead to a lack of cooperation of the part of even the most proactive of citizens.

I fully support the call of the New Orleans Crime Commission, which "encourage[s] all community members to get involved with the Community Policing program to end violent crime in New Orleans, and reconnect with the NOPD officers in their neighborhoods.” We made that call. We made that connection. I do not think it should be too much to expect that when we do connect with officers in our neighborhoods, that effort will be rewarded--if not with the information we request, than at the very least with a modicum of respect. If we are met with such discouragement--if our calls are not heard but are instead and dismissed by those hired to serve us--then how can we be expected to trust the NOPD? For how long can the citizens endure abuse at the hands of their "protectors"? (As those of the frontline of cases involving domestic abuse, the demoralizing effects of even minor but persistent mental abuse should be abundantly clear to all of those who serve the NOPD.)

I am strong enough--and I care deeply enough about my community--to remain proactive, in spite of this negative experience. But it does seem to me that with some very minimal guidelines and training in communicating in a civil manner toward citizens (esp. victims), the NOPD could do a lot to reaffirm its role as a supporter of the community. A good start would be to remind the officers on duty at the Fifth District that those who call deserve to be treated with the same respect that they would like to be afforded.

If I can be of any assistance, please let me know. I am a writing tutor and English teacher and I am happy to provide free tutoring to officers who need help with what we call "audience-awareness," or an understanding of the importance of communicating with the reader/listener. If there are officers with literacy or writing issues, I am again happy to provide free tutoring or teaching in writing and communicating, as well.

With my sincerest thanks for the good work you do, I am yours,


1 comment:

Haze Ablaze said...

This reminds me of the sheer circles NOPD ran me through in my apparently absurd efforts to obtain an interview with them, both through official channels (Bambi Hall) and online via an officer who posts as "Dark Law" and at least seems human, and signal26.com, who slandered me by my full name--using an anonymous handle, natch--on a NolaAgainstCrime.com list. My subsequent response was never published by NAC, despite me following up on it with Nora Natale.

I hope something comes of your own efforts. Sadly, going national seems to be more effective than trying to prod action locally--then, after all, tourist dollars and reputation are at $take. Maybe a letter to The Nation, New York Times, etc.?