The current Yellow Springs police force. When too many cops
have too few problems to police, some of them might create
a few problems of their own.
Peaceful, pleasant Yellow Springs, Ohio is best known for its quirky character, for being the home of Antioch College, and for what passes, at least in southern Ohio, as a fairly vibrant and growing food scene.
At the college they grow much of their own food, organically of course, on their own farm. Downtown, the Winds Café has a kitchen so innovative, I'd bet it could survive even in fussy New York, and it also offers a respectable wine list. I hear other restaurants in town are pretty good, too, although, as an only rarely-visiting New Yorker, I haven’t had a chance to try them all.
As for the cops — well, out-of-control police in Yellow Springs were all but unheard of until recently. Note that I am familiar with some police matters in Yellow Springs stretching back to 1954, when the late Russ Bradley was police chief there. (Later he became county sheriff.) Sample 1954 police matter?
One night, the burglar alarm began clanging at at the only drug store in town. Chief Bradley rolled out of bed, put his police uniform on over his pajamas, phoned up the town’s other two cops, and got to the drug store just as a pair of escaped convicts from a West Virginia penitentiary, and the girlfriend of one of them, fled from the busted-into drug store with all the medicinal narcotics they could grab and carry. They headed south on Ohio Route 68, which also serves as the main drag of Yellow Springs, where it's called Xenia Avenue.
The Yellow Springs cops set out in hot pursuit, siren blaring. Only problem was, their rattle-trappy old police car couldn’t keep up with the souped-up vehicle the bad guys were driving. So the cops radioed ten miles down the road to the county sheriff’s office in Xenia, which set up a road block.
Meanwhile the escaped con burglars, correctly fearful that they were going to get caught, decided not to get caught while in possession of narcotics. So they began tossing the stuff out of the car windows. The following morning, the entire Yellow Springs Police Department (was it really only three people back then?) and the Greene County Sheriff’s officers, had to hike along the sides of the ten mile stretch of Route 68 from Yellow Springs to Xenia, policing up pill bottles. You can’t make this stuff up.
When all this happened, I was still a high school kid in Brooklyn. But some years later I was in college editing the Antioch College student newspaper, which was job printed each week by the Yellow Springs News. One day, while waiting for the press run to finish, I came across a bound volume of all 1954 issues of the Yellow Springs News, and it was there that I found the story of the escaped cons, and the girlfriend, and the pills. Enterprising hotshot boy reporter that I was, I decided to go looking for them and to write a story about them.
The story never got written. The reason why is a long story in itself. But I did actually find and have a chat with one of the perps, the girlfriend. Her name was Marjorie Liefbar, and when I found her her, she was running a brothel at the corner of Fourth and York Streets in Newport, Kentucky, about 75 miles away. The joint pretended to be a greasy spoon called The Fourth Street Grill. Starting early in the evening, the door was locked. Whenever somebody knocked at the door, Marge would open it and say, "Sorry, the grill's closed, honey, unless you want a woman."
“Russ Bradley?” she said to me. “Sure, I remember that sumnabitch hillbilly. I grew up with him. I can remember when he didn’t even know how to wear shoes!”
Bradley eventually became county sheriff and was replaced by one of the first black police chiefs in America, a kindly gentle man named Jim McKee. McKee dealt non-violently with some explosive issues in his time, including a large demonstration in front of a segregated barber shop in 1964 that led to the arrest of 106 demonstrators.
You’d think that a small town police chief who managed to bring off an operation of that size might revel in it, but not McKee, who had some sympathy for the people he was arresting. “It was the worst day of my life,” he said.
Even Bradley, redneck that he was, made sure that he and his department were peace officers, not disturbers of the peace.
Contrast that with the current Yellow Springs police department. If I counted the number of heads in their web page group photogaphs correctly, the department has grown to eleven officers and seven dispatchers although the population of the town has not appreciably increased.
And now, when there’s trouble in tiny Yellow Springs, people are less and less surprised when the instigators turn out to be the cops. Or perhaps the Keystone Cops would be a better handle.
Earlier this year one officer was dismissed from the force after several incidents that were judged to be “appropriate” police behavior or “within Policy” but “not a good fit for the village.” What happened during those incidents? Well, according to the Yellow Springs News, in one case
...in the parking lot behind the Gulch [a local bar], Officer Whittemore smashed the car window of a longtime local resident who had refused his requests to provide identification and open the car door. The woman, who had had too much to drink and decided to not drive home, was waiting in her car for a ride home, according to an interview with the woman, who asked not to be identified. However, according to Whittemore’s report of the incident, the woman’s car keys were within her reach, which is a violation of the Ohio Revised Code if a vehicle’s owner is intoxicated. After breaking the window, Officer Whittemore forced the woman, who continued to resist, out of the car, threatened her with a Taser, handcuffed her and charged her with disorderly conduct, obstructing official business and resisting arrest.
Of course, with the windows rolled up, one can question how the officer knew the sleeping woman was intoxicated.
In another incident
Officer Whittemore stopped a 22-year-old local man as the young man was walking on Xenia Avenue near downtown at about 9:30 p.m. on May 30. According to Whittemore’s written report on the incident, the man looked “agitated” and also walked too near the police cruiser as Whittemore was parked in the Speedway parking lot. Whittemore followed the man down the street, then pulled in front of him at the Mills Park Hotel, where the man refused to stop. Whittemore reported that the man smelled like alcohol and pulled away when Whittemore grabbed his wrist, resulting in a struggle and the young man being forced to the ground. When the man continued to resist, he was threatened with Tasing, handcuffed and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
So the officer is off the force. Problem solved, right?
Not so fast.
On New Year’s Eve this year, the villagers of Yellow Springs celebrated a “ball drop” — a small town version of what happens in Times Square. Shortly after midnight there was an incident.
Precisely what happened was unclear but, according to newspaper reports, police drove their car into a crowd of revelers on a short commercial street, aptly named Short Street, that runs perpendicular to Routed 68. Their sirens were howling.
What was their intent? To “disperse revelers,” according to the Yellow Springs News. Why disperse at only eight minutes after midnight during a New Year's Eve celebration? Not clear. Nobody was breaking any laws by celebrating the new year. Maybe the cops unilaterally decided that the crowd had stayed up past their bedtime. The police chief, at least initially, has failed to come up with an explanation. There is a town council meeting tonight and perhaps more will come out then.
Meanwhile, the cops pulled out their tasers and one, or possibly two people were tased, one of them possibly by accident. And one witness told the Yellow Springs News, “I told saw an officer grab the head of the man and throw him to the ground.” When the man on the ground attempted to get up, the cop tased him again, the witness said.
The Yellow Springs News also reported
Kurt Miyazaki, a co-owner of the Emporium, said he tried to talk to the three police officers in two squad cars as they moved slowly through the crowd. He was not sure of the identity of the officers, two men and one young woman/
Miyazaki said that in a peaceful way he asked police what they were doing, and warned that they could be provoking people. One officer responded that they were just doing their job, while the others did not respond. The police were not talking to people in the street, he said, but were simply driving their cars with the sirens blaring.
So I guess the intent of the police wasn’t noise control. And then this:
According to Berman, when she asked a local officer at the scene why police were attempting to clear the street so abruptly, the officer, whose name she didn’t know, said this was standard practice for the New Year’s event. However, Anita Brown, who has attended the event for about 25 years, said she has never witnessed it before.
According to Gardner, also a longtime attendee of the ball-drop who was in the crowd, one young man approached a local police car saying he wanted to help and was told to back off or he’d be arrested. Someone pushed against the police car door and the officer exited the car, after which several officers chased the man down the street.
Let me take a wild guess here as to what’s really going on. There are too many cops for a town the size of Yellow Springs, population under 5,000. They don’t have enough to do. And so, like a working dog left bored and alone at home for too many hours, they invent jobs for themselves.
Dogs invent jobs like chewing up the furniture and breaking things. Cops in Yellow Springs, it seems, find ways to create incidents that would be crimes, or at least misdemeanors, if it were ordinary citizens doing what the cops are doing to keep busy.
There has been talk that the local police force needs retraining. I would suggest that what they need is replacement. And that their ranks need to be thinned out. You can’t train people to have common sense.