After hearing a dozen complaints about bad attitudes and rude behavior by some police officers, Police Superintendent Christopher J. Carlin told a group of about 75 citizens Wednesday that those incidents should always be reported so each can be investigated.
Speaking at a public forum at Word of Life Ministries, 1941 Hyde Park Blvd., Carlin said, "We want to be more customer-friendly."
He said he has set up a Professional Standards Unit to check out complaints against officers, so steps can be taken to help correct the attitudes of officers who are inappropriately aggressive, display bad attitudes or indulge in other bad behavior.
"We can't know if you don't tell us," Carlin said. "The only way we can address it is if you call in.
"If you're not comfortable coming down (to police headquarters) to make a complaint," Carlin said, "call us and we'll send out an officer from Professional Standards to take it."
And while he said he believes most city police officers do their job well and demonstrate good people skills, Carlin said he realizes "some may need more training to develop better skills in dealing with the public."
"We have to do a better job by being citizen-friendly. Our officers have to realize they work for the public, and they have to treat them right. We need the public's help to find out what's going on in their neighborhoods so we can address problems and make the quality of life better for everyone," Carlin said.
To help address such issues as dealing with minorities, Carlin said the Police Department is providing diversity training for its officers.
He said if a Professional Standards investigation shows an officer is having problems in this area, he may have to go back to school for more intensive training.
His comments came after several people gave specific examples of how they were mistreated by officers for no apparent reason.
Prefacing his comment by stating he believes "there are a whole lot more good police officers than bad ones," Brad Frank of 16th Street said, "As a black male, you face certain challenges" in dealing with some officers.
He said he was stopped at a stop sign some time ago with his wife and young daughter when his car was struck from behind by a vehicle occupied by two "Caucasian males." He said he called the police, and when an officer arrived he immediately went to the men who struck his car to find out what happened. He said the officer let the men go and then called other officers in to arrest him for parking tickets that he believed had been disposed of in City Court.
Instead, the officers made him get out of the car and "cuffed me with my suit on in front of my wife and daughter," he said, adding that police made him stay "cuffed in a holding cell" for several hours until the matter was straightened out. In the meantime, they did not allow him to move his car, and his family had to walk a short distance home.
Frank said he has an education and a responsible job, but he was treated badly. He said he does not know how to get the community to trust police officers when things like that occur. "I don't know what you do to control something like that," he added.
Linda Moragne, a black 16th Street resident, said: "I have a grandson who runs and hides when he sees a police officer. These attitudes (on the part of officers and citizens) have to change."
But the complaints came not from blacks alone. Half came from white residents, including Adam Zito, 17, who said an off-duty police officer ran into his car in August 2000, swore at him and treated him miserably. He said he was forced to stay in jail for six hours without being allowed to call his family to bail him out.
He said the incident has unnerved him so much, he ducks in his car every time he sees a police officer.
"We'll investigate it," Carlin said, adding that one thing minority residents can do is apply to take the police officers examination in December. He said that the city needs more minority officers to better reflect the community's population, but that he is having a hard time recruiting them.
Detective Carlton Cain, a black officer, said blacks do as well as whites proportionately on the civil service test. "The problem is minorities don't sign up," he said.
Carlin said if minorities want to help make a difference and help change attitudes in the community, "Take the police exam. If you want to make a difference, take the test."