Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Summer in the City

Someone must have spread the word that Monday night's regular Common Council Police Committee meeting was going to be a "community meeting" about the recent violence in Hudson, and that brought a reporter from Channel 6 News to the meeting. Her report appeared online the next day: "Hudson PD holds community meeting following recent shootings." Amanda Purcell from the Register-Star was also there, and her report appears online today: "Hudson police face questions from the public about the shootings."  

The meeting was in fact a regular Police Committee meeting, always open to the public but rarely well attended unless something is happening that makes people outraged and upset, so before questions and comments were heard from frightened neighbors and the angry grandmothers of victims and near victims, Chief Ed Moore presented his quarterly report to the committee, with charts that compared police activity for the first three quarters of the year for the past three years: overtime hours; calls for service--crimes against property; calls for service--crimes against persons.

The charts show there's been a significant spike in overtime. Moore noted that the amount spent so far in 2017 on overtime equaled the cost of a new police vehicle. This year has also seen a drop in larceny but an increase in burglaries and assaults against persons, including one murder.

At the heart of the overtime issue--aside from the HPD having to work overtime investigating the spate of violence in the city--is the fact that the department is currently understaffed. The force had been capped at 26, but in the 2017 budget, the salary for a 26th officer was eliminated. That combined with the loss during the year of four or five officers--most to retirement, one to long-term disability--meant that for much of the year the HPD was working without a full complement of officers. Two new officers have been hired recently--Randy Strattman and Jen Keyser--and Moore is working to get the department back to 25 officers. He has requested that the 26th officer be put back in the budget and is seeking community support for that.

The lack of staff is also cited as the reason the HPD cannot engage in community policing--something brought up by both neighbors to the violence and relatives of the victims. Moore explained that, with the current shortage of officers, "it is almost impossible to devote officers to community policing." "We cannot have people walking," Moore told the group, "until we are fully staffed." 

On a brighter note, Moore told the committee that, without the new police facility, "the investigation we are doing now could not have been done." He spoke in particular about the conference rooms in the new police station and the ability to get a lot of officers together in one place for updates and meetings. He also praised the new contract with the police union which allowed him greater flexibility in scheduling officers, to ensure an adequate number of police officers were on duty on days and at times of greatest need. He noted that under the previous contract there might be as many officers on duty on a Tuesday morning as on a Saturday night.

In the question-and-answer period, an issue first discussed a year ago returned: the problem of the "disorderly house." John Grayzel, a resident of North Fifth Street, who said his specialty was international development, made the point that "a crime against the community is worse than a crime against property" and characterized a disorderly premises--one where disruptive people congregate and represent a nuisance and a danger to the neighborhood--as a crime against community. He asked, "Do the police have adequate laws?" 

The question recalls the discussion last October about Chapter 188, Paragraph 5 of the city code: "Keeping disorderly house prohibited."
§ 188-5. No person shall, within the limits of the City, keep or maintain a disorderly house or a house of ill fame or allow or permit any house, shop, store, or other building or structure owned or occupied by him or by her to be used as a disorderly house or house of ill fame.  
The police had been applying this law to situations that involved people hanging out at a house or apartment, creating noise and objectionable activity and disrupting the neighborhood, until it was pointed out, probably by a defense attorney, that the term disorderly house had a very specific meaning: brothel. A year ago, Moore asked the Common Council to rewrite the law so it would apply to situations that actually exist today. The Common Council Legal Committee, on the recommendation of city attorney Ken Dow, decided to go beyond amending a single statute to take on the task of reviewing the entire city code to identify other arcane or problematic laws and recommend amendments, but the project never seemed to be pursued. Perhaps the Legal Committee will return to the issue now and propose a simple amendment to § 188-5.

No comments:

Post a Comment