Cop Board Or Cop Bored? So Far, Cops Leave Unscathed

Posted: July 29, 1997

A pleasant dinner was the plan, but as attorney Scott Lempert and his wife drove across traffic-jammed South Street near 4th, their first concern was a parking spot.

Meanwhile, Officer Joseph Galie, a three-year veteran of the force, was frantically trying to keep the traffic moving.

At about 9:40 p.m. on Saturday, March 23, 1996, Lempert met Galie. There was screaming and shouting, maybe some pushing and foul language.

The couple never broke bread. Instead, Lempert was surrounded by cops and ticketed.

Now, Lempert and Galie are getting the chance to relive their experiences in excruciating detail before the Police Advisory Commission.

On July 17, Lempert and Galie met before a hearing panel for nearly three hours of testimony. More will follow in August in a controversy that seems made for private mediation.

Three years after it started operations, the commission is saddled with about 25 old cases like the one involving Lempert, and it's not quite sure what to do with them.

So far this year, three cases have been before three-member panels of the commission.

In each one, the panel ultimately backed the cops and recommended no discipline. However, in one case it questioned the officers' honesty, and in another it urged better training in the wake of a $30,000 payout by the city to a man beaten during a car stop.

Jane Dalton, the commission chairwoman, said the commission faces some tough decisions considering its limited resources.

The cases have already been resolved by the Police Department's internal affairs division. But commission investigators have not yet interviewed the 80 to 100 cops involved in incidents that date back to mid-1994.

Dalton said the commission doesn't want to rely only on police investigations of alleged abuse by cops. But full-blown hearings are another matter because witnesses' memories tend to fade, and victims sometimes would rather forget than go forward.

``There is a question about whether it is the best use of our resources,'' she said of hearings. ``We might be better looking at policy issues and focusing on current cases.''

James J. Eisenhower III, commission counsel, said most complaints don't involve serious physical injury. More often, the complaint focuses on an officer's alleged lack of respect or use of rude language related to race or gender.

``These are the kind of complaints that eat away at the system. They undermine the confidence that people have in officers,'' he said.

Charles P. Kluge Jr., commission executive director, said that, contrary to the impression created by the Fraternal Order of Police, the commission isn't out to get cops.

No officer has been fired in the last three years based on a commission recommendation, he said.

``It wouldn't be a good thing for us to sustain every complaint because ultimately, the police officer wouldn't get out of his car and we'd all suffer,'' he said.

His advice for officers and citizens is to treat each other with respect.

``Anybody who argues with a man who has a gun, a stick, a big flashlight and handcuffs and who can impede your freedom with his badge is an absolute fool,'' he said.

And while he said the uniformed officers are his heroes, Kluge stressed, ``There are bullies on that police force and those are the ones we're here to investigate.''

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