Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hang Your Head Greg Hullum

When the news first hit that Springfield was under siege from a serial bandit, I, like most of you, had one question foremost in my mind: Was the holdup person wearing a red hat? Even after a physical description was released indicating that the perpetrator was a 6 foot tall black man, I still didn’t completely dismiss the possibility of a red scourge, knowing how several of the “Society’s” made members are masters of disguise. It wasn’t until a drapery shop was hit and there were no reports of taffeta curtains being purloined that I felt comfortable that the Red Hats were not involved.

After rationally dismissing my arch enemies, I did let my imagination wander a bit as to the robber’s identity. I figured that he fancied himself a Robin Hood or Billy the Kid type character. Perhaps he imagined that the downtrodden and the working class were cheering on his brazen crime spree as it played out on the front page. Perhaps he thought some lonely convenience store clerk, a beauty lost in a world of beef jerky and 98oz. soft drinks, would see past his revolver and into his heart, and impulsively run away with him to the getaway car. Perhaps he yearned to be understood and hoped that someday, some dark troubadour would pen a folk song in his honor. Or maybe he just needed money for crack.

The one thing that I did know for sure was that if I entered a Qik-n-EZ and saw someone matching his description brandishing a weapon, I had the option of turning around and heading out the door. I’m relatively certain that I would have just that. But it’s important to remember that not everyone had the option. I speak, of course, of our men and women in blue.

It’s doubtful that many of us who aren’t police officers or who haven’t served in the military, know what it is like to have to confront someone who may try to kill us. The police knew the suspect was armed and that he wasn’t wary of pulling the trigger, yet they pursued and apprehended him, because, that’s their job. And it’s a job that most of us wouldn’t want.

This isn’t to suggest that the police’s bravery puts them above criticism when they run afoul of the law or exhibit objectionable behavior. But it should remind us that the people we’ve grown accustomed to slinging arrows at, are willing to take a bullet for us. That point probably doesn't get made enough.

11 comments:

nancy said...

Dan

I could not agree more.

I have been fairly outspoken when I think things aren't on the up-and-up with police in general, so it's only fair to give the Springfield Police Department a well-deserved "Congratulations" on a job well done. I think the apprehension of this guy in under a week when there was no rhyme or reason to where he would strike next is remarkable. His crimes could have become so much worse if he was not caught so quickly.

monkey boy said...

Wait a minute here! Isn't this guy innocent before proven guilty? Lets not be hasty here.

It could have been that those dastardly cops are padding their stats by grabbing the first black guy they saw. They are like that you know. Don't you read the paper and watch TV? You kids are soooooo naive.

What they probably did was looked at his race, his age, and his clothing and then went out looking for a suspect. Wait a minute, that sounds like profiling! Someone call Dusty Rhodes immediately, there is a good story here.

nancy said...

Dan and/or Monkey Boy

Maybe you can enlighten me. Was the search for this suspect considered profiling? In my mind, it's not, but maybe I've had it wrong all along. I always considered profiling to mean an analysis of the "type" of person to commit a specific crime, especially when there are no leads. Such as in the case of abortion clinic bombings, you hear about fringe, fanatic, ultra-conservative, second ammendment obsessive, loner types.

In the case of Hullum, there were witness accounts and video surveillance providing real life details of this guy's physical appearance and the car used after at least one of the robberies. It makes perfect sense to look for people or cars matching these descriptions.

To me, profiling in this case would have meant looking for the type of person to commit armed robberies, such as anyone in need of money or on drugs, which of course would have been pretty time-consuming.

When we got into the whole airport screening debate, many people disagreed with me and thought it was a waste of time to screen people not matching the description of the hijackers, yet in yesterday's SJR, a police spokesman said that some people not matching the description of the robber (whites and women) were pulled over in cars similar to the one seen with the robber. I completely agree with that. The similarity in the car warrants that stop and just because the suspect wasn't in the car at the time doesn't mean it wasn't the one used and could be a lead for the police department.

Maybe there's not a difference between profiling and pursuing credible leads and I'm being too nitpicky. I'm sure you'll let me know.

monkey boy said...

Nancy,

First of all my comment was not a swipe at your views on "profiling" in general as you have some valid points. Some.

My comment was a swipe at "racial profiling" as defined by the black community, as well as a swipe at the media.

If I was looking for the serial robber I would look for a person, who as I said before, had the same race, clothing, build, ect. By the same token if I were a police officer working the Eastside of Springfield I would look for people who resemble what I know drug dealing, gun toting criminals to be. Gang-style clothing, 16-30 years old, out after 1:00 a.m., driving cars that appear to have been "tricked-out" using drug money, ect. I would not stop a white female if I was looking for the armed robber or local drug dealers. I would not even stop a black male who wasn't dressed in thug wear and driving a car that through my experience and training I know is popular with gangs. The concept of "racial profiling" is incredibly overblown by the black community and even more so by the media which spoon feeds it to people who don't know any different.

How is this relevant here? Dan and yourself were pleased to see the quality and brave police work done to apprehend the armed robber. That is great! There is no doubt that any local police department needs the people they serve to appreciate their hard work. What you guys fail to see, and more importantly, what the media fails to see is that quality, brave police work happens everyday and it largely goes unrecognized. Which is fine, because that is the job they signed up for and is what they are expected to do. However, then comes along the arrest of the armed robber and everybody in Springfield wants to pat the police department on the back. Yet in my opinion he was caught by a very routine method....a Crimestoppers tip. How hard is it to get a name of a suspect, pull out his picture, and show a photo line-up to the victims? Not very.

So there are several points to my comments. First, what appears to be wonderful police work sometimes really is not. Secondly, what often times appears to be routine and not widely reported on by the media is exemplary police work that goes unnoticed. Third, to believe the media in regard to many issues, particularly in regard to police-related matters, is foolish.

Your conception of what "profiling" is is much more on target than that of the black community and the media on the issue of "racial profiling." Pat yourself on the back for that.

Remember the comment you referred to that was made by one of our former mayors at a City Council meeting in regard to the conditions at the police department? What you chose to do was believe a person who under stress blurted out an erroneous comment that was sensationalized by the media as opposed to believe what common sense and first-hand accounts tell you. (Common sense like reading between the lines after the presiding judge in the case just threw out all the complainants except two. As I said, they are just people looking for an excuse and a payday, not victims.) This situation is no different, both Dan and yourself have praised the police department after relying on overstated media accounts that contain probably 10% factual information. I don't fault you for it because it is a common mistake. I just wish people would use more restraint when commenting both pro and con on any issue that they do not have first-hand knowledge of.

One can dream can't one?

nancy said...

Monkey Boy

If you believe that the media overstated the apprehension of Hullum with less than 10% factual information, I defer to your knowledge in this case. Your humility on behalf of the police department that this wasn't such a hard case to solve doesn't change my appreciation that it was solved. I see where you are coming from with the media though. I'm sure harder cases have been solved with much less fanfair likely because the public didn't feel so randomly at risk of being a target of that specific criminal as we did with Hullum. Do you think that the media isn't interested in those cases for some reason, or are details not provided by the police department? I'm not trying to be a smart-ass here, but in light of your frustration with both Dan's and my criticism and praise of the police department, do you believe there would be a healthier morale among its ranks if the media reported on NONE of its activities, positive or negative? That's an honest question. Maybe the spotlight provides too much pressure. Do you believe that there is ever a time when stellar police work is overshadowed by the boneheaded behavior of some members of the deparment, whether illegal or not? I'm surprised there isn't more aggravation towards those police officers who screw those things up for the rest of you who are trying to do your job. If there is, the media sure isn't reporting that and there's another point for Monkey Boy.

As far as the former mayor, the fact of the matter is she DID say those words, whether she meant them or not. You seem eager to dismiss them as nonsense. It seems a little ironic that confessions of suspects are difficult to retract even if they claim to be made under pressure but the words of this mayor should be disregarded for the same reason. You make a comment like "common sense, like reading between the lines", but would you trust the media to read between those lines? Again, you know a lot more about all of this than I do.

I must say, you have opened my eyes up quite a bit. I find the whole issue of profiling and racial profiling fascinating, especially from the safe, criticism-free comfort of my home (OK, you lash a little criticism my way). I've been doing a little independant research and found some interesting research from the Department of Justice.

I am once again feeling like I've put myself in a position where I need to apologize. I mean no disrespect towards the police department. I think it's healthy and advantageous to examine public service, but not to the extent that its overly critical and demoralizing to its members.

I value your input as someone who has firsthand experience.

monkey boy said...

Nancy,

"Do you think that the media isn't interested in those cases for some reason, or are details not provided by the police department?"

It very often happens that due to the timing of an event it could miss the SJ-R's deadline and thus old news the next day and therefore not reported. There are other instances in which the case is not "sexy" enough for the media yet quality police work was done.

"do you believe there would be a healthier morale among its ranks if the media reported on NONE of its activities, positive or negative?"

Certainly the citizens deserve to know what is going on in their City especially as it relates to crime. So I understand the importance of media coverage. Do I think morale would be affected? Not really. The officers will show up and do their jobs regardless of what is being said both pro and con. Morale is something the officers theirselves need to control. If what the SJ-R says controls ones' personal happiness then that person is in a sorry state and nothing will ever please them. The bottom-line on media coverage however is that it is an exercise in sensationalism and is rarely accurate.

"Do you believe that there is ever a time when stellar police work is overshadowed by the boneheaded behavior of some members of the department"

Why would or should it? Do you feel now that since the serial robber was caught that all the bad press that the SPD has received recently is null and void? Each incident should stand on its own. If the SPD does something good tell them about it, if they do something bad tell them about it. That should be done for any government agency.

"It seems a little ironic that confessions of suspects are difficult to retract even if they claim to be made under pressure but the words of this mayor should be disregarded for the same reason."

Interesting analogy, however, not exactly the same. A confession from a criminal most often contains information and details that only the perpetrator would know. Thus, their attempts to later retract statements are often futile attempts from their defense to minimize the damage. What the Mayor said was unsubstantiated and extremely subjective. She said it to appease, which is a phenomena that has been known to surface in criminal cases as well, (that is why your analogy is not a bad one) but really does not apply. Can't someone misspeak without everyone saying, "aha! Gotcha!"?

"but would you trust the media to read between those lines?"

Hell no, that is why I rely on intelligent people like you to do that. The media can't sell papers or get people to watch their news if they are rational and use good common sense. That would be just boring facts! Let's not let facts get in the way of good entertainment.

"I've been doing a little independant research and found some interesting research from the Department of Justice."

Be careful. Remember what happened when the State released its traffic stop data. In its simplest form it was damning to every police department in the State. However, when analyzed by an independent educator the data made sense. But once again, there are many who wish to ignore common sense because its not quite as fun or in this case doesn't allow for an excuse.

"I am once again feeling like I've put myself in a position where I need to apologize."

Why? For giving your opinion? I just saw a chance to educate and I hope that many will see that there are explanations other than what the media has to offer.

nancy said...

Monkey Boy

Good point about the mayor vs. suspect flub up in regards to details that only the perpetrator would know. I'm being a devil's advocate here, but wouldn't that still hold water with the mayor, in terms of having personal knowledge of the police department? And that her retraction is a "futile attempt to minimize damage"? Aw, forget it.

The report that I am slowly trudging throught from the justice department was actually conducted by researchers at Northwestern. There's a small disclaimer at the beginning saying that the findings are not necessarily those of the justice department, but the foreward is authored by one of its directors.

You say that if the SPD does something good, tell them about it, if they do something bad, tell them about it. I think that's what Dan has tried to do here on his blog.

What is the solution to the biased media problem as it relates to the SPD? If I'm not to rely on its accounts of the goings on in the department, where do I or any other citizen go for objective analysis? I like having this blog AND the SJR to balance things out (or cancel things out as the case may be), but what is the answer for people who only subscribe to one or to neither? Can the SPD take the SJR to task in some public way?

Anonymous said...

I'm not from Springpatch but what responsibility or connection does the Mayor bear for/with the Police Department?

It was my impression that the City of Springfield was a Fire and Police Commission Jurisdiction. That means the Mayor has not supervisory authority or responsibility for the PD's sworn officer operations.

Why the Heck would the Mayor be talking about a crime wave, solved or unsolved? I was in town the day this suspect was nabbed and I was listening to WMAY almost all day but I never heard any quotes from Mayor Davlin. I heard two guys on WMAY talking about how, if you hadn't attended SHG, you were pretty much screwed but didn't find that helpful in terms of crime control analysis.

Hi, Dan

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Tony,

Springfield used to have commissioners, but now it has an aldermanic style of government. I believe that the mayor does appoint the police chief, with approval of the aldermen. The police chief doesn't seem to say much so I suppose that's why the mayor was out in front on this story.

As for the WMAY guys, whenever something goes awry in Springfield, it's not uncommon to blame Griffin/SHG graduates. As a Griffin alum, I attribute it to jealously.

Thanks for commenting,
Dan

monkey boy said...

Nancy,

"You say that if the SPD does something good, tell them about it, if they do something bad, tell them about it. I think that's what Dan has tried to do here on his blog."

Yes he has, but everyone should try to avoid using the SJ-R and/or local TV news as their only information source. I tried to show you where that can be a mistake. Obviously one must use the media to gather information, however, I suggest to not rely on it. Everybody should use their own experiences, throw in a little media, and once again......use common sense.

A few responses ago you mentioned that the spotlight possibly provides too much pressure. I guess you are asking if police officers feel the media pressure. I think it is quite the reverse. Because of the ridiculous amount of media coverage (TV, film, news, print...think about it, there are THREE CSI shows! How absurd) it is the public that expects too much. I think officers are pretty much oblivious to the media crush as far as their performance is concerned.

There seems to be a silly interest in making law enforcement figures an entertainment source. What would happen if such scrutiny and publicity was heaped upon plumbers? Are there poor plumbers who are not motivated to work their hardest, or drink too much, cheat on their wives? I think there are people like that in every profession. With that in mind consider that the average law-abiding citizen has about as much chance to suffer from poor plumbing as they do poor policing. In the last 3 years how many times have you called the police? Probably about the same amount of times you called a plumber.

My point? For the amount of impact that the police have on the average person's daily life as opposed to say a garbage man, the concern over the impropriety of a very small percentage of a police department seems to be out-of-line. Especially when you consider that the only people that may have been adversely affected are drug-dealing scumbags.

If the police came to your house and caused you to not have hot water, or didn't pick your garbage up for a month, then I would expect outrage.

(This should be worth another 20 responses)

nancy said...

Monkey Boy

You refer to CSI. Recently I've read where prosecutors are having a more difficult time in court because CSI-savvy jurors want forensic evidence in order to convict, even when none exists. I suppose this could be another example of the media's effect on the whole justice system.

I agree with almost everything in your last post. The only thing that bothers me a little is "Especially when you consider that the only people that may have been adversely affected are drug-dealing scumbags." I think that's what keeps a few of us constitutional purists a little riled up.

You may catch some heat from plumbers, but I'd have to agree that the racket they run, especially after hours or on holidays is deserving of all kinds of SJR/Illinois Times exposes. Actually, I know not of what I speak, since my talented father is but a phone call away and I have never had the occasion to hire a plumber.

Blogfree Dan, it's good to hear from you. I thought maybe you'd adopted a "Talk amongst yourselves" format.