There have been strong reactions to the series "Too tough? Tactics in Suburban Policing" (Inquirer, Dec. 16-18). A sample follows:
Sharon M. Dietrich
Managing attorney, Community Legal Services Inc., Philadelphia
Sharon M. DietrichManaging attorney, Community Legal Services Inc., Philadelphia
Your reports on suburban arrests for "nuisance crimes" was an excellent exploration of an issue that previously received little public attention. They document the immediate indignities of these arrests and the community mistrust they create. But there is another lasting consequence: barriers to employment caused by these criminal records.
Criminal background checks, which have become ubiquitous in the last decade, routinely include summary offenses such as disorderly conduct. Employers are prohibited by state law from considering summary offenses when making hiring decisions. But very often, if a job applicant has a criminal record of any sort, he will be rejected.
Convictions of summary offenses cannot be expunged. They can be eliminated only through the pardon process, which takes about three years to complete. A pending state Senate bill would provide for expungement of such offenses after five years under many circumstances. But the potential employment disenfranchisement, particularly of minorities, should be considered as police departments design their strategies.
Why are people complaining about police in certain suburban townships arresting and strip-searching people for crimes that may seem petty? As a teenager in the 1960s, I was part of a large group that was arrested for loitering. The arrest prevented a huge gang fight.
I can only imagine how difficult it can be for a police officer to have to deal with someone who is breaking a law, however petty the offense, and then receiving belligerent and abusive treatment on top of it. As for profiling, it has been proven time and again to be a viable tactic for crime prevention.
Possibly the crime rates in these suburban areas are as low as they are because of the work done by our police forces.
After being arrested as part of a small demonstration by low-income housing activists in 1971, I was taken to the Roundhouse, where all of the women in our group were strip-searched.
One by one, the women in our group, including a 67-year-old grandmother, were taken from our cells. Dehumanizing doesn't begin to describe how it felt as a 19-year-old woman to stand naked in a room in which a half dozen male police officers lounged around and watched as a matron put me through the search.
When I was returned to my cell, I vomited. Other women in our group wept, and others simply became impenetrably withdrawn. After more than 20 hours in custody, we were charged with trespassing, a summary offense, and released.
A few months later, on a Saturday afternoon, I was sexually assaulted and left unconscious on a Philadelphia playground. When I came to, I walked home. Friends helped me get medical care and urged me to call the police, but I refused. I couldn't bear the thought of being violated a third time.
The police are doing a good job at Beverly Hills Middle School ("Patrols a way of life at U. Darby school," Dec. 16). They are slowing down cars, keeping the kids orderly and attempting to help 1,500 children get home safely. It would be nice to see more parents and guardians assisting this effort.
I witnessed a "sweet little girl" punching and kicking a police officer as he broke up a fight that was so violent it left me sick to my stomach. I was amazed at his professionalism and composure. Children should learn, at home, that the police are public servants who deserve our utmost respect. They are the brave people we call on when the rest of us are too afraid to get involved.
The real story is that Upper Darby has welcomed people of all skin colors and ethnic backgrounds. The real story is that students who buy into what their teachers are teaching thrive in Upper Darby schools. The real story is that the vast majority of Upper Darby kids are good and trying to better themselves through education. The real story is that the school's hands are often tied by regulations making it "too tough" to discipline the few who are stealing the education of the many by disrupting classrooms and terrorizing pathways home.
I, for one, appreciate the township's attempt to keep our neighborhoods safe after school.
The series paints a dismal picture of Pennsylvania police trying to dampen major crime with the unproven technique of aggressively pursuing "nuisance" and noncriminal activity.
But even better police relations with the community won't solve the problem of suspect hiring practices. Upper Darby Police Chief Michael Chitwood makes noises about wanting diversity, but whom did he hire? Yeadon found six African American officers for its force of 15, but only 1 percent of Upper Darby's force of 127 officers is black.
Worse, we now we have the idealistic and confident Mayor-elect Michael Nutter, who is about to impose authoritarian bullying on Philadelphia's "loiterers" with his new stop-and-frisk policy.
After reading your series, I conclude that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I applaud the efforts of suburban law enforcement officials to prevent the malaise that has infected large cities from coming across their borders. Many suburban citizens moved from the blighted urban areas to escape the crime that the big-city politicians have permitted in order to gain votes. An occasional mistake may be made by suburban police and that is unfortunate. However, if their overall effort benefits the majority of citizens, then it is an unavoidable event.