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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Scolded by a Citizen

Mary lives on Aurora’s east side. I’ve never met her but she left me a long voice mail telling me she was disappointed by my last column about officers and self-initiated activity.

If you recall, a suburban Police Chief mandated that his officers make two traffic stops during their shifts. My position was that it is a shame that police management has to resort to forcing officers to do the work they should already be doing.

But my position is not what upset Mary. She felt my tone was sarcastic and said it had a “biting edge”. I was very bothered by her assessment because it wasn’t my intent to sound sarcastic. In fact, I usually apply my gift of sarcasm quite purposefully and this was not one of those times! Her comments made me wonder if I’d missed the mark completely, so I called her to get some more insight on what upset her.

Mary was a bit shocked that I called her back and even apologized for leaving the scolding voice-mail. I assured her that she need not apologize for her own interpretation of my words. Because I am not a writer by trade, I often wonder if my message is being conveyed in the most appropriate way and I rely on the feedback I receive (both good and bad) to generate discussion. Mary did not shy away from respectful dissension. She said it was unsettling for her to hear me talk about targeting criminal activity through traffic stops and took exception to this excerpt:

“Some feel that the premise of the contact is to find something wrong and I readily admit that it is. I’ve never heard of a police officer pulling someone over to tell them that they are doing a really good job driving their car. Make no mistake--- these contacts are to find illegal activity.”

Looking at my words from another vantage point, I can see how the tone might have been perceived as sarcastic. I regret that. I was simply trying to make a no-nonsense point that we find stolen property, guns, persons wanted on warrants, etc. through traffic enforcement. I assumed that most law abiding citizens were comfortable with this method because they know it results in busting criminals.

My assumption was wrong. I’m sure there are more “Mary’s” out there who felt the same way but weren’t compelled to pick up the phone and tell me about it. Mary feels that targeting people through traffic stops is the wrong way to go about finding criminal activity. She is more in favor of police officers engaging citizens by building relationships with them. She described the walking beat cop and said, “the officer should be a friend rather than looking for a crime.” Mary didn’t appear to be soft on crime, however. Her theory is that in building these relationships, officers are alerted to crime.

Mary is exactly right. What she is describing is the Community Policing philosophy that has been proven in both theory and practice that developing partnerships with the community benefits both the citizens and the police. Citizens who take responsibility for their neighborhoods and work with the police see dramatic improvements. In taking the time to get to know each other, trust develops and communication ensues. Crime reduction through innovation and problem-solving is a natural consequence.

However, that is just one component to fighting crime. I must say unapologetically that one of the reasons crime has dropped to an all time low in Aurora is because our officers are aggressively pursuing gang members and criminals who commit violent crimes. We have to be relentless in our pursuit against those who exist to terrorize our community.

Building relationships is invaluable. So is aggressive police work. Even more important are Aurorans like Mary who are vested in this city and care enough to suggest that we can have both.

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