Police Immaturity

by Michael Larocca | 11/21/01 6:00am

Last week a phone call was made to the Hanover Police suggesting that the person responsible for the recent sexual assaults on campus was in Food Court. The police, along with campus security, responded quickly and with much gusto. The officers found Timothy Hall '05, in the back part of Thayer dining hall, presumably enjoying his evening meal. Two police officers and two Safety and Security officers then proceeded to escort Hall through the main dining area, so that they could question him in a Dining Services office. The walk through Thayer and the accompanying commotion must have been an experience full of pure humiliation and embarrassment for Hall -- an experience that could have and should have been avoided.

Dartmouth is a small college in a small town and, as in all small communities, rumors and news travel quickly. Hall, a new member of this community, is now inextricably linked to these assault cases. Regardless of the ultimate findings of the investigation, Hall will be remembered for his embarrassing march down the aisle of Food Court. If, in fact, Hall is the perpetrator, he will doubtlessly suffer not only legal consequences, but humiliation and shame. However, if it is found that he had nothing to do with the crimes, he has nonetheless already been forced to suffer humiliation.

The police could have easily avoided punishing Hall by simply asking him to leave through the back door and not sending four officers in to make the request. In a small town like Hanover, the police should be aware of the consequences of their actions and show restraint, discretion and, above all, courtesy. Perhaps they should have paraded Hall through the Green, so that we could have thrown stones at him.

Presumably, the police went to apprehend Hall quickly and without fully thinking through their actions. The speed of the situation was surely partly responsible for their lack of forethought. Furthermore, the Hanover police were doubtlessly excited by the prospect of pursuing police action that didn't involve breaking up a party or confiscating a joint. The inexperience of the police was clear and their actions were emblematic of the department as a whole, from what I have seen.

For instance, three weekends ago an '05 friend of mine was driving home from the costume shop in West Lebanon when he was abruptly pulled over by four police cars. Apparently, the toy guns he purchased as part of a Halloween costume had been noticed by another motorist, who promptly called the police. After stopping the car in a rather dramatic roadblock, the police removed my friend and his buddies from the car with guns pressed against their necks.

As soon as the police realized that the guns were fake, they didn't let up. They were clearly embarrassed yet refused to offer an apology. They tried to somehow blame the young men for the debacle. Furthermore, one policeman suggested that their overly forceful response was somehow justified by the events of Sept. 11. As if Osama bin Laden was cruising into Hanover on a Saturday night.

Another instance of the police's blatant immaturity came at the homecoming football game. After the second '05 rushed the field, he disappeared into the locker room for quite some time. The '05 then reappeared in handcuffs with a policeman on either arm. Rather than simply march the young man through the locker room and out, the police elected to display their "captive" to the crowd. They marched the young man over to the crowd as if to proclaim, "Look, we caught him."

The vast majority of Dartmouth students seem to agree that the overly harsh consequences of rushing the field are absurd and, in this instance, the police were booed. The police's immature gloating was unnecessary and, once again, displays their lack of respect. We got the point, fellas: we won't rush the field next year ... no one gets away from the Hanover Police! Except the first kid to rush the field!

I am sure the local police have, for each one of these instances, done 10 great deeds for the local community. Furthermore, I am sure that the officers are also good men and women who care deeply about their community. It just seems that the police need to calm down and think before they act -- sound advice for anyone, but especially important for people in positions of power. I realize the police mean well. I also realize that they don't see too much serious crime and are, therefore, sometimes unsure how to act when confronted with it.

The police's interaction with Timothy Hall in Food Court offers a perfect example of the police officers' general attitudes. The response was prompt and obviously represented concern, but also inexperience and immaturity. A reporter from The Dartmouth asked one of the police officers if they had "escorted any students out of Food Court." He responded that they "brought nobody outside." He was right they hadn't taken anyone outside, but they had taken someone (through a crowded dining hall of his peers) for questioning in a nearby office. The officer clearly knew the intent of the reporter's question, but he decided to respond with both sarcasm and immaturity. I am surprised that he didn't respond with the fourth grader's quintessential "go-to:" "I know you are, but what am I?"

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