5-20-2008 Policing is best left to the police

The Mayor of Wilkes-Barre, one Tom Leighton, stopped returning my cell phone calls in very late March. And for a while there, I didn’t think too, too much of it. I’ve talked to him somewhat semi-regularly over the past few years. And despite what his persistent critics would have you believe, he is a very busy guy. So, I’d leave him a voicemail and wait. And sooner or later, he’d get back to me. Well, until recently, that is.

While contemplating this drawn-out lack of a response retrospectively, it suddenly dawned on me that this was an obvious snub in the making. All right then, what did I do? It’s sort of like when you find out the boss wants to see you in his office. You start backtracking, you start wondering what you could have possibly done to get yourself in trouble. And, after not too much thought, I settled on the following post of mine, dated March 25, 2008, as the likely start of the ongoing snub:

An Angel meets the Internet Devil

While I may be ugly and ignorant and silly, I’m not totally stupid.

Our elected officials and some of their appointed underlings have gone well out of their way to show their disinterest in, and their displeasure with the sudden arrival of the Guardian Angels in Wilkes-Barre. And I, too, was a bit dismayed and publicly skeptical when I first heard of their stated intention to patrol our urban landscape.

And after the coordinator of the fledgling Angels outfit sent me a far less than friendly e-mail response to my rather pointed skepticism and criticisms, I took him up on his offer to meet in person. Or, as he said, “Again, call me if you would like to set up a meeting if you are open minded and really want to learn about us. If you just want to call and bash or make assumptions, I don't have time for that. But I did want to write to you and set things straight if possible.”

Now, in my mind, only a complete pussy would decline that invite, or perhaps, an anonymous, venom-spitting blogger. I turned on my word processor. I took a couple of public shots at the Guardian Angels right out of the starting gate. So, there was no way I was going to shy away from a good old face-to-face. It’s just not my style.

So I met with the guy. And after much conversation--well over two hours worth--I wrote the following:

The long and short of it is, Scott Koppenhofer is a smart, streetwise, thoroughly likeable and credible person. And he’s no newcomer to what he endeavors to do here in Wilkes-Barre. And he couldn’t stress enough that he and his group want nothing more than to assist the police department and thereby earn the trust and respect of the police department.

And in all honesty, I think he’s going to pull it off. And after having met him in a totally informal setting, I honestly hope he does pull it off. Where but a few days ago I was worried about our image as a city, now I’m beginning to think that with the passage of some time, some steady guidance and some capable persistence on his part, the Guardian Angels might actually add something positive to the city’s image.

So I met with the guy. And, as it turned out, I liked the guy. And unlike some, I don’t honestly believe he’s doing Wilkes-Barre a great disservice. So…sue me!

But, as is always the troubling case, everything in Wilkes-Barre is politicized to the point of absurdity. And I’m beginning to wonder why the administration of the city, both the mayor and the city council alike, are doing their level best to spurn the Guardian Angels at every possible turn.

Did someone invite them to Wilkes-Barre as a way of embarrassing this city’s elected leaders? Are the Angels here because someone in our midst has yet another dulled political axe to grind? And, if so, are some or all of our elected leaders just a little bit annoyed with the latest crime-fighting developments?

It sure seems like it to me.

And if I’ve suddenly been awarded persona non gratis status simply because I bothered…simply because I dared to meet with Scott Koppenhofer and because I also dared to suggest that he’s not worthy of a well-coordinated snub, well, then so be it. What I did was to cross a newly-built bridge, not burn that bridge before it could be crossed, as some others clearly seem to be in favor of.

I did not endorse the Guardian Angels. I did not state that they are to fighting crime what Steve Rodham Corbett is to offering profundities of the most absurd nature. I did not suggest that anyone else should meet with any of them. And I did not promise that they will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves…eradicate crime during our lifetimes. What I said was, god forbid, they might actually help. Apparently, I was not supposed to do as much.

And even when I was out doing my most recent police ride-along, the police officer I was riding with referred to Scott Koppenhofer as being “your buddy” when we encountered the Guardian Angels on Public Square. With that said, I consider that police officer to be my friend and I’d be very disappointed if he thought we were less than friends. And I know he didn’t mean anything by that comment. The thing is, Scott is not my buddy simply because I bothered to do what no one else in Wilkes-Barre with a business card or a title seems capable or willing to do…talk to the guy.

I talked to the guy. And from where I’m sitting, that’s the adult thing to do. But, as we well know, politics as usual in Wilkes-Barre quite often makes snot-ridden toddlers of those previously believed to be adults. And I wouldn’t change a single thing that I did, even if that means I’ll never get VIP passes to see the Beach Boys at Kirby Park ever again. Even if it means I’ll never ride in a police car again. And even if it means I’ll never drink another beer paid for by any unseen election committee.

I don’t care what my mayor wants. And I don’t care what my city councilman thinks. I’ll do what I want, talk to whomever I want, write what I want and let the chips fall where they may. If the newfound politically expedient or the newfound politically mandated thing in Wilkes-Barre is to rebuff those who would volunteer their own time in the name of making the streets safer, then you can count me out. All that I sought was knowledge. And to that end, I got what I wanted.

So, as far as I’m concerned, my elected leaders are too headstrong to begrudgingly accept a little help. And too completely stubborn to admit that volunteerism might actually help to fight crime, so long as said volunteers keep a real, real low profile. And so long as said volunteers do as they are told to do. Because, to do otherwise would be tantamount to admitting that crimes do happen here in Wilkes-Barre.

In my opinion, my elected leaders have their heads collectively stuck in the sand, and by purposeful design. And what comes next? Well, the top dog of Guardian Angels everywhere, Curtis Sliwa, comes to town frothing at the mouth and hoping to embarrass the mayor of the city.

Angels to hit the streets

“Many of you as residents and supporters of this Guardian Angel effort have understood that, you’ve seen the beginnings of a change. … You want to launch a preemptive strike and I salute all of you for that,” he said.

“So whether you’re the mayor of Wilkes-Barre and in denial or whether you’re the police chief and in denial, or any of these other places that say we’re not New York, we’re not Chester, we’re not Camden, we’re not Philly, we’re not Trenton, we’re not Baltimore,” hey, you’re not. But you better do something to make sure you don’t become at least part of that or a small piece of that,” Sliwa said.

To date, neither Mayor Tom Leighton nor police Chief Gerry Dessoye have taken a public stand – positive or negative – regarding the Angels. They and council were invited to the graduation ceremony, but their reserved seats were empty and they did not respond to the invitation, said Wilkes-Barre chapter leader Scott Koppenhofer.

Leighton did not return a call seeking comment, and Dessoye could not be reached. Sliwa saluted the Wilkes-Barre Crime Watch for being “the first group to reach out in solidarity” to the Angels “in defiance of the mayor and police chief.”

He thanked Koppenhofer, of Kingston, for his work to establish the chapter and commended him for his commitment to making the city as safe as possible “unlike some people whose only sense of consciousness is development and redevelopment of downtown quarters.”

“If you don’t have public safety, you could build brand new bus shelters, you can have state of the art lighting, you could encourage businesses to come back from the malls and … give them tax breaks and abatements that would almost make it fit for them fiscally to come back, but guess what. If their customers are getting mugged, if their cars are getting broken into, if their businesses are being vandalized, why would they want to come back to the inner city core as part of the redevelopment scheme?” Sliwa said.

You know, despite his long-held celebrity status, I’d have to list this as an example of how not to endear yourself and your group to the less than receptive administration of the city you just invaded by choice. Gee whiz, how to bridge that divide. I know, let’s make it noticeably wider!

What a freaking lunatic. A diplomat he isn’t. When I first read this article, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Why throw down the publicized gauntlet when what is clearly called for is some steady statesmanship? Why blow into town for an hour or two and talk total smack on the local politicians when the members of your fledgling outfit are doing their level best to not make waves? In all honesty, I’m flabbergasted.

My elected leaders are turning their collective backs on the Guardian Angels, as if the entire boycott is being orchestrated. And then the leader of that outfit comes to town offering little more than pointed insults to those very same leaders. Still, I’m the bad guy who’s calls go unanswered? It sounds to me like I’m the only one playing with a full deck of late.

If I may dare to correct the King of the Angels, what we have going on here is much more than better lighting, new bus shelters and tax breaks.

Since January of 2004, Wilkes-Barre has:

1. Hired 21 new police officers.

2. Purchased new police vehicles at previously unheard of rates.

3. Rebuilt the defunct K-9 corps.

4. Reformed the defunct S.W.A.T. unit.

5. Replaced the horses with motorcycles.

6. Resumed bike patrols at special events.

7. Refurbished the long-shuttered shooting range at headquarters.

8. Installed a new roof and a new HVAC system at headquarters.

9. Installed surveillance cameras throughout the downtown.

10. And appointed a well-respected, decorated police chief.

So, Curtis, if we don’t have public safety, it’s not for a lack of trying, or a lack of devoting serious resources to reclaiming our streets from the people that fled your “safe” city and destabilized ours. In the future, it would behoove you to do some necessary homework before recklessly spouting off in support of your group.

Goofs all. I swear to your fictional god, politics makes goofs of everyone who comes in direct contact with it.

And it gets even worse with this ribaldry:

Parks are deplored

WILKES-BARRE – The director of the Wilkes-Barre Crime Watch Coalition wants the city to shut down several of its parks because they aren’t safe, or fit, for young children.

Charlotte Raup and members of the Parsons Crime Watch didn’t know the extent of vandalism done to the Parkin Street and Scott Street parks, until they decided to clean the parks last week.

“…When we saw the condition of them, they need to be dismantled and closed,” Raup said. “There’s no way you can clean anything, and we tried to get the graffiti off, but nothing worked. It’s way beyond cleaning up.”

Go on…

Raup believes police patrols will minimize but not stop the vandalism.

“We need police patrols at the park. If there’s no patrols, don’t bother to (keep the park open),” Raup said. “These aren’t little kids in the park at night, it’s older kids between 5 and 10 p.m. We know who they are, but we can’t do anything. We need the police.”

Raup said the coalition reported graffiti and damage in both parks in October when the group held its Halloween party in the Parkin Street park. “It was just as bad then. And it’s not getting any better,” she said.

If the city does not take charge, the problems at the parks will increase and cost the city more money, Merritt said.

“It’s a disgrace,” Merritt said. “What they need to do is patrol the parks, keep a log as to what time they patrolled and how many people were there a couple times a shift.”

Raup said it’s unfortunate the mayor and chief of police refuse to work with the newly formed Guardian Angels.

“If we all sat down and talked, these are the issues, vandalism and graffiti, that we would be able to address,” Raup said. “We’re all on the same page and we’re all working towards the same thing.”


Raup said it’s unfortunate the mayor and chief of police refuse to work with the newly formed Guardian Angels.

Let me get this straight. You knew the park was in a state of serious disrepair since October, but it becomes breaking news when the “mayor and chief of police refuse to work with the newly formed Guardian Angels?”

So, am I supposed to believe that there is not a coordinated effort afoot to 1.) Embarrass the administration of this city whereas crime is concerned, 2.) Keep the publicized pressure up until the administration relents and puts a cop at every meeting the crime watchers see fit, 3.) Allow crime watchers and city council folks to determine the routes and frequencies of police patrols, and 4.) Needlessly carry on as if this city is completely unsafe, even though it’s the very last thing this city needs?

No, what Parsons is suffering through is not poor administrating. What Parsons is suffering through is not poor policing, or poor routing of police patrols. What Parsons is suffering through is not the result of anything any elected official or anything any law enforcement officer once did or currently does. No, what Parsons is suffering through is years upon years worth of piss-poor parenting. And no politician, no police officer, no crime watcher and no well-intentioned Guardian Angel is going to make up for any of that.

And I think our crime watchers need to spend much more time watching for crime, and much less time politicking. Just because someone at City Hall doesn’t agree with your ideas and your proposed methods doesn’t mean you need to wage a self-aggrandizing public relations campaign. There’s law enforcement professionals. And then there’s crime watchers. And it seems as if somebody needs to be reminded of their rightful place on the bottom of the totem pole.

You see, the politicization of law enforcement is the very last thing we need. You elected a new mayor, he appointed a new police chief and the city has gotten noticeably quieter as a result. But, most unfortunately, some seem to using the issue of crime and crime abatement as self-aggrandizing vehicles by which they can claim some measure of respect and/or fame. What we need is to resist the urge to play police chief and allow NEPA’s most well-staffed, well-equipped, well-trained and most self-motivated police departments to take back our streets.

And short of true, well-intentioned crime-watching, anything too far above and beyond that is either well-intentioned sideshows in the making or self-serving, self-aggrandizing counter-effective interference.

I may get on out there and pretend to play one on occasion, but I’m no cop. And neither are any of the above players not currently sporting a badge and a loaded gun. Yet, everyone involved seems to be suggesting that they alone hold the long-elusive answers to the questions that may never be answered while the ongoing societal decay continues to confound and frustrate the lot of us.

Crime? You know where I stand.

Policing is best left to the police.

And, all too often, it seems as if I’m the only person in Wilkes-Barre that understands as much.