Alan Sorensen Havre Daily News email@example.com
Profiling, intimidation, hostility, fear of retaliation, inappropriate charges, confusion over charges and inappropriate questioning were among complaints aired some drawing smatterings of applause, laughter and snickering by Havre residents at the Havre City Council’s Police and Fire Committee meeting Tuesday evening. Committee Chair Terry Schend called the meeting following complaints from three women during the Oct. 15 City Council meeting. Schend opened the meeting by saying the primary purpose of the meeting was to hear complaints and criticism from the public, that the search for solutions would come later. Af ter collecting complaints, he said, the committee would adjourn and t h e n s c h e d u l e a meeting at the city c o u n c i l ’ s Nov. 5 meeting to address the complaints. “We want to get a list of complaints and issues before the public,” he said, adding that the committee would then work to resolve them. The first people to speak Tuesday were two of the women who had sparked the debate by writing letters to council members complaining about city police. Patty Donnes said her chief concern was that officers’ behavior inflamed an incident she was familiar with involving teenagers. “I think they should jack down a situation that might be out of hand,” Donnes said. She asked what kind of training officers have before they join the force. Schend said all officers must attend the Montana Police Academy for 12 weeks. They then spend a year as probationary officers. At the end of the year, their performance is reviewed and they are hired or not. City Prosecutor Tamara Barkus said the training was the same as every other officer in the state receives. Julie Nelson asked what changes have been made so paperwork can be done correctly the first time rather than leaving parents wo n d e r i n g wh a t c h a r g e s t h e i r children face. She said in her case she and her husband received conflicting informat ion from pol ice about the charges against their son during the course of two weeks. She s a i d t h ey f i r s t l e a r n e d o f t h e correct charges in an article in the Havre Daily News. “Is that how you find out what the charges are against your child, in the newspaper?” she asked. Nelson also asked if officers received training dealing specifically with children and their parents. Her final complaint was the confusing and intimidating process people must follow to file a complaint, including getting the complaint form notarized. “To file a complaint against the police department you have to file it with the police department,” Nelson said. Schend suggested that people having trouble dealing with the process can either call their council members or the mayor. Council member Allen “Woody” Woodwick and committee members Rick Pierson and Gerry Veis said they will help people through the process. “In the past , I have delivered forms,” Woodwick said. “We will take them in and t a l k w i t h t h e p o l i c e department.” “The only complaint I had, I handed over to the mayor. ” Pierson said. “He met with the people and police. “With any department public works, fire department any complaint, it should be looked into and will be looked into,” he added. D o n n e s s a i d s h e i s concerned that if something isn’t done about what she called officers’ insensitivity toward the people with whom they are dealing a tragedy could occur. Schend agreed that the possibility of someone getting s e r i o u s l y h u r t i n a confrontation between police and members of the public can’t be ignored. “We should be concerned about that,” he said, citing concern for people’s safety and the city’s liability. Another person said police have catch-all charges they file against people who can’t or won’t provide them with information. Two of those, she said, are obstructing an officer if they are unable to provide asked-for information and disorderly conduct if they dare question the officer’s behavior. Those two charges are always in the paper, she said She added that police department profiling seemed to be prevalent because 80 percent of the people listed in the court documents published in the paper are Nat ive American. Not everyone complained about the police department. Havre High School Principal Jerry Vandersloot said he had a lot of experience with the police department in his 15 years as HHS assistant principal. He said when he had to deal with a disciplinary issue at the school that required police i n v o l v eme n t , o f f i c e r s responding prompt ly and handled the situations well. He said officers got to know repeat offenders well, identified with them, and help them seek solutions to their behavior. “I just want the community to know that not everyone has had a bad experience with officers,” he said. Havre at to rney Br ian Lilletvedt said the problems brought out at the meeting, whether real or perceived, must not be ignored. He agreed with others who said police are put under stress nearly every time they respond to a call, but added that they must still behave properly in tough situations regardless of the stress. He said the people pol ice confront in those situations are just as much stress if not more, because they may not be used to dealing with police. It can be more uncomfortable for them than it is for the officers for whom it is more routine. He suggested the committee look just as hard at people’s perception of police as at the legitimate complaints it was hearing. “I think perception is what molds community attitudes,” he said. Barkus spoke in defense of police officers. “No one here is perfect, no police officer is perfect,” she said, adding that many officers contribute by donating time to the community projects and activities. “What specifically do you want the police department to do differently?” she asked. C y n t h i a S c h m o c ke l recounted a couple of incidents in which she said had gone to p o l i c e seeking help for someone else and had ended up being treated like a suspect. In both instances, she said, police asked her irrelevant questions. “Where you live, where you go to church, what you paid for your car, what your husband does is none of their business,” she said. After another audience member gave a list of bad experiences he’d had with the police over the years, Pierson r e s p o n d e d t o B a r k u s ’ comments. “Tammi, I appreciate your d e f e n s e o f t h e p o l i c e department, but looking at this room full of people we need to look for solutions to the complaints,” Pierson said. “Police do go out every day and every night (into stressful situations). We’re listening so we can sit down and possibly find some resolve so people in this community can look up to their police department instead of being afraid of them.” Eleven people in all came forward to speak good or ill of the department during the 1 3/4-hour meeting. About 15 members of the audience were s t u d e n t s i n John I ta ’s government class at HHS.