I wanted to draw attention to this for folks who may not have seen this. Here’s the backstory. About a week or so ago, commenter Denise Shelton wrote about an incident that happened involving her son’s young friend and the Alameda Police Department:
From time to time, someone accuses the Alameda police for unfairly targeting black people. Singling them out to question because of their color. When I heard about these incidents, I always thought there must have been some reasonable explanation and that the race card was being played unfairly. Not anymore. My son attends Oakland School for the Arts. One of his best friends is a classmate who hails from Richmond and is black. This kid is skinny, good-looking, soft-spoken, unfailingly polite (he calls my husband “Sir”), and has the entire soundtrack to “Glee” on his Ipod. He dresses fashionably but not “ghetto”– his pants fit and are not around his knees. Now my son has previously roamed the streets of Alameda, alone and with other friends, sometimes late at night and never once had he been stopped for any reason. A couple of months ago, my son and this friend from school were walking along Fernside about 10 at night. They were detained by the police, questioned as to why they were there and what they were doing, had their names run through the computer and were released. They were told there had been burglaries in the area and they had to check everybody out. Okay. The boys were really upset but I told them the police were just doing their jobs, no harm done, calm down. Fine. This weekend, my son’s friend who has been a house guest of ours off and on over the summer was returning alone from a party late at night. He had a key to our house and had just inserted it in the lock when he was ordered to lie face down on the ground and handcuffed. The police said the car that was dropping him off looked like one that belonged to people who had been in a fight in the Lucky 13. He was detained until they could bring a witness to say he had not been involved. Now the biggest threat to society this kid poses is his love of show tunes and he’s handcuffed on the ground in front of my house with enough “5-0″ action to summon some of the neighbors. I was mortified that a guest in my home was subjected to this. The party he had been attending was a family and friends event, a send off to a classmate who was leaving to study dance in England. My son’s friend was not drunk or high. One of the reasons he hangs out here so much is because it’s not safe to walk the streets in many parts of Richmond, especially not for a kid who prefers Kristen Chenowith to Notorious BIG. Guess some people can’t feel safe anywhere, huh?
Definitely a troubling story, but about a week later, she posted this update after being contacted by a representative of APD:
Update on the incident I described above. The fight was apparently at La Penca Azul not Lucky 13. A representative of the police department called me today to explain what happened from their perspective, and I’m pretty well convinced that my son’s friend was just super unlucky that night. He and his friends matched the description of those who attacked employees at the restaurant (three black males in a white car). I still think the handcuffs were a bit over the top, and the white officer was being over-zealous but they were apparently within protocol when a felony battery has occurred. The officer also tells me he enjoys reading our comments on this blog (and others) and recognized my name. (We are not unknown to them – apparently Adam has made an especially big impression). The chief heard the department was being accused of profiling and was anxious to nip that idea in the bud…
And then a few days ago, the Chief of Police, Mike Noonan, popped in to further clarify:
…I would like to address response #14, posted by Ms. Denise Shelton. After reading her post, we have received emails about the perception painted that the Alameda Police Department profiles citizens. I, too, found this insinuation troubling and have looked into the matter. After reviewing the events of that evening, and having my command staff speak with Ms. Shelton, I feel compelled to respond to the post. I think you and your readers deserve to know all the specifics of the incident to which Ms. Shelton was referring.
On August 8, 2011, at 2:43 AM, our police officers responded to calls of an Assault with a Deadly Weapon at a restaurant on Park Street. Officers arrived on scene at 2:44 AM and found that employees of the restaurant had been attacked by a group of four or five individuals and were assaulted with chairs and bottles. Witnesses advised that the suspects left the scene towards Broadway in a white vehicle.
At approximately 2:47 AM, one of our officers spotted a vehicle matching the suspect vehicle only a few blocks away from the crime. The vehicle was parked in the middle of a residential street with no lights on. As the officer turned on his spot light and pointed it at the car, one of the occupants exited the car and ran towards a house. The occupants were similar in description to the suspects in the assault.
Ms. Shelton is correct that the officers did stop the young man in question as he was at the front door of the house. However, this was only after he got out of the vehicle and ran towards the house as the vehicle was stopped by the police. Witnesses were brought to the scene for a possible identification and it was determined that vehicle’s occupants were not involved assault from Park Street. The handcuffs were immediately taken off. Officers explained to the people detained why they were stopped and what was happening. This entire incident was over within approximately 11 minutes.
Yes, the occupants were detained and handcuffed for a very short period of time. This is unfortunate. But it is also important to look at things from an officer safety perspective. First, a violent felony had just occurred. Second, once the vehicle was stopped, one of the occupants exited the car and ran towards the house. This action may have been innocent, but it was unusual and reasonably raised suspicion by the officers. As soon as it was determined there was no involvement in the crime, the car’s occupants were sent on their way after an explanation as to what had occurred.
Although Ms. Shelton did not use the term “profiling,” the suggestion was clearly there. Ms. Shelton seemed to be satisfied with our response and explanation of what occurred that night. She later posted comments to this effect and we are grateful that she did. We also offered to meet with the young man in question.
The vehicle and its occupants were not stopped for who they were. They were stopped because the vehicle and occupants matched the description of a vehicle that had just been used in a violent felony in that immediate area.
The Alameda Police Department is not perfect. However, profiling of any kind is not used, taught, or tolerated in this organization. This is not who we are. People who have heard me speak know I have high expectations of my officers and that I am constantly preaching the value of developing partnerships with the community. Regardless of the situation, I expect my officers to be professional and courteous.
Always I am happy to sit down with any Alameda resident, or business person, who has concerns about their interactions with the Alameda Police Department. Our door is always open to new ideas or ways of bettering our relationship with the community.
I think its great that Denise S.’s concerns were addressed in such a thorough manner and it’s great that the new Police Chief readily clarified the record on the dreaded “blogs.” Since it’s topical, let me say that I really enjoyed the Alameda Patch video interview of Police Chief Mike Noonan, I found his answers to be very candid and open which isn’t necessarily typical for command level staff who are generally very careful about public communication.