What do you want us to do about it?

Recently a group was venting about their local police. The impetus for the discussion was an incident in which one was struck by something thrown at her from a moving vehicle. When she reported the incident to her local police, the desk officer laughed it off.

Others advised to speak with the officer’s supervisor or the chief. Some commiserated by recounting similar incidents of their own. She was urged to take the officer’s response to her mayor or write a letter to the editor of the local paper.

One woman said she had received the same type of response—mostly indifference—from her local police in a well-known American city after making several reports over the years. The reports included calling in a car fire, reporting someone armed with a shotgun and offering a description of an armed robber. Another said that when she was victimized, law enforcement officials in her large city asked her, “What do you want us to do about it?”

Another claimed that she tried to set up a neighborhood watch and was told by an officer that she had the wrong department, even though she was in their jurisdiction. It gets worse. One after the other recounted stories of police indifference and/or incompetence: For example, calling for help with a possible break-in and having the responding officer send the homeowner into the house ahead of the officer to make sure the perpetrators were no longer still on the property. Others said they were still waiting for someone to respond to their calls, even though they happened years ago.

Do I believe their stories are colored by time and perhaps their own viewpoint? Sure, but I also know these people and they’re not prone to lie. And some very interesting conclusions could be drawn from this conversation:

Most agreed that the smaller the jurisdiction, the better the police response. The majority of complaints were about medium to large metropolitan police or deputies from more populated jurisdictions.

All but two felt the officers with whom they interacted displayed a lack of respect and/or laziness. They also believed they were being dismissed because their complaints weren’t viewed as “important” enough for officers to waste their time.

I realize police are stretched thin and sometimes the “crimes” reported don’t warrant much attention. I remember years ago when I was an investigator and my lieutenant and sergeant were out of town. The victim-witness coordinator in the division filled in, assigning cases. She was woefully inadequate for the job and assigned an investigator to every single incident that came across her desk. My partner and I drew a pumpkin smashing.

It was Halloween and some kids broke a couple of jack-o’-lanterns on someone’s porch. The homeowner reported the incident, and following departmental protocol I called the victim. She was very surprised and said, “I can’t believe the police are actually calling me over this.” I couldn’t, either, but that’s another story.

But therein remains the conundrum: What do you take seriously and what do you let pass? Make the wrong choice and you have a situation that makes the whole department look bad. Remember—most people have very little contact with police. What you do can affect the way they look at you for the rest of their lives.

Laugh and ask, “What do you want us to do about it?” then be prepared to be pilloried in the court of public opinion. I’d rather search for a pumpkin vandal than to let the people I serve think my department isn’t tuned in to the community or doing its job.

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