Facts And Focus Don't Point To Profiling

April 25, 2014
By TRACEY G. GOVE /Commentary
The Hartford Courant
A recent essay on the Atlantic website characterized the West Hartford Police Department as biased and unprofessional because the author, Doug Glanville, an African American, said one of the town's officers profiled him.
After nearly two decades with this agency, I know that nothing could be further from the truth. It made me think, however, about bias and the danger of assumptions.
The police department responded to more than 60,000 calls last year. Every call was important to the person who made it and equally important to us. You call. We come. No matter what. That's our commitment.
Recently, we received a 911 call at 10:06 p.m. from a resident who said a male was banging on the front door, demanding that she let him in. The resident had previously hired this man, via a door-to-door solicitation, to clear her driveway of snow. She was unsatisfied because, although paid, he never finished the job. The resident was scared. Officers couldn't find the man, but told neighbors to call if he returned.
A week later, at 2:56 p.m., the man returned and a neighbor called the police. An officer obtained a description of the man — an African American, in his 40s, wearing a brown jacket and carrying a snow shovel. A few blocks away, he found Doug Glanville, who closely matched that description and was shoveling a driveway. The officer asked Mr. Glanville whether he was shoveling driveways for money. Mr. Glanville said he was shoveling his own driveway. The officer moved on.
Police found the man they were seeking in the neighborhood. He is a convicted felon with a lengthy criminal history and on probation for a larceny in West Hartford.
Our officer took the call seriously. He responded appropriately. When he found someone matching the description, he followed up with a question. He was right to ask the question and was right to move on when he got his answer. What he didn't do was take the time to explain why he was asking. And that's what brings me to the subject of assumptions.
In the past few days, I've heard a lot of people make a lot of assumptions. People make assumptions about West Hartford. They make assumptions about minority groups. They make assumptions about police. Some are pretty outrageous. Others have come from people I know and respect. Those sting the most because we like to think that the people who know us understand us.
I have dedicated a good part of my career to understanding the intersection of good policing and civil rights. I'm not going to pretend that there's no reason for African Americans to make assumptions about the motives of police in this country, but, in this case, my officer had a good reason to speak to Mr. Glanville. Mr. Glanville clearly took offense and complained to town officials.
We do not profile people. That's not who we are as a department or as a town. To the officer, the race of the person he was talking to was nothing more than one part of an overall description of a particular individual, along with the general description of his clothes and the fact that he had a snow shovel. To Mr. Glanville, his race was the only reason for the inquiry. Plainly, we have a lot of work left to overcome such assumptions.
I'm proud to be the chief of the West Hartford Police Department. I know every member of this department feels proud of their work. The careful recruiting and thoughtful training of our officers make this one of the best, most modern and progressive police departments anywhere.
Despite the popular misconception that West Hartford is a uniformly affluent, white suburb, everyone in this department understands that it is a racially, ethnically and culturally diverse community where more than 70 languages are spoken. We work hard to respect every individual because we understand that respect should never be a byproduct of race or religion, age or orientation. We understand that our homeowners don't all look the same. For that matter, we also understand that a man offering to shovel driveways for a few bucks — even one with a criminal record — may simply be struggling to earn an honorable living and deserves respect.
We understand that because we've had all the same life experiences you've had. We're black, white and Hispanic too. We're men and women. We come from families that have struggled. We have hobbies and lives outside work. But some people see only the uniform. Some people assume we're the same cops they dealt with in another place 30 years ago, before many of our officers were born. They assume that we don't have good reasons for our actions. Although they know the world has changed, some assume that the police haven't.
No matter who they're about, making assumptions about people hurts us all in the end.
Tracey G. Gove is West Hartford's police chief and a member of the state Commissions on Racial and Ethnic Disparity in the Criminal Justice System and the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.
Republished from the Hartford Courant.


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