21 04 2008

Police provide protection, caring, citizens say

Agencies often receive kudos and positive comments in letters

April 20, 2008

By Alison Bath


The Shreveport Times


Randy Coffman says it’s easy to tell the difference between the good and bad guys in his Shreveport neighborhood.

The good guys wear a uniform and carry a badge. They call or drop by to check on Coffman, who has glaucoma and other ailments. They routinely drive their patrol cars by the 51-year-old’s Mertis Avenue apartment to keep a visible presence in the community.
“They don’t treat you like you are the criminal,” said Coffman, a former Dallas resident who moved to Shreveport in 2000. “They treat you like you are a human being.”

Coffman as easily can tell you about the bad guys. They sell drugs and terrorize residents. They’ve assaulted him twice — robbing his apartment, taking prescription drugs, money and small items to pawn.

“I was walking out my front door and got hit on the head with something that knocked me out,” Coffman said of an attack May 17, 2007, that left him with multiple injuries. including bruised kidneys. “I was in the hospital for a week.”

Coffman is among as many as 90 area residents, fellow workers and others, who wrote letters in 2007 to the Shreveport Police Department praising its officers for their performance. The Times recently reviewed seven citizen commendation letters sent by local residents to the Police Department and made available at the newspaper’s request.

Other agencies also receive their fair share of kudos.

Over the past five years, Bossier City police have received 782 commendations — an average of about 156 a year — from citizens through letters, e-mails, phone calls and in person. It’s the same for the Bossier and Caddo sheriff’s offices, which estimate receiving as many as 200 citizen and other commendations yearly.

Tracking that praise is difficult as some comments not always are written, and many are received by an officer’s superior officer and not the main administration office.

Those letters, e-mails and phone calls confirm for officers, who more frequently get criticism or complaints, their hard work is recognized and appreciated, said Bossier sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Ed Baswell.

“These guys spend a lot of time dealing with negative (situations and problems). And when they have something positive happen like that, it really boosts their morale.”

Commendations are received from citizens affected by a burglary or robbery, drivers who were given a break or homeowners worried about prowlers. They include stories about heroic efforts to save a life or, in the case of one officer who purchased a cane for an elderly man, actions that make a hard life a little easier.

Most commonly, they share a sentiment — citizens impressed by the breadth of compassion officers show.

In Coffman’s case, stepped-up patrols, sweeps for illegal drugs and weapons and, importantly, demonstrated concern for citizen welfare have left him and other residents feeling safer and cared for, he said. “The officers in this area are all wonderful, wonderful officers.”

Some citizens also were impressed with officers who exhibited extraordinary dedication to duty and resourcefulness.

In August, burglars took a significant amount of tools and other equipment from Charles Watson’s Centenary Boulevard muffler shop. Instead of filling in a report over the telephone, an officer came to Watson’s business, taking the initiative to view surveillance videotape from a nearby apartment complex, seize evidence for fingerprint processing and search a nearby vacant building. The search resulted in the discovery of the stolen goods, Watson said.

The officer’s perseverance left Watson, who after a number of similar break-ins considered closing his shop, hopeful. “It made me feel like something was going to happen … that we would keep going.”

Watson and others said all too often the media and others are quick to jump on the actions of a few bad officers and downplay the efforts of others.

News reports chronicled the arrests of at least 18 area officers in 2007 for a variety of crimes ranging from malfeasance to soliciting sex, distributing illegal drugs, driving while intoxicated and others. More recently, brutality allegations against former Shreveport police officer Wiley Willis garnered national and international attention after the release of a video of the incident.

“They get so much bad publicity,” said Shreveporter Barbara Garrett. “Nobody hears about the good stuff they do.”

A case in point is the Shreveport police dispatcher who assisted Garrett in October when a friend was attempting suicide. The dispatcher’s efforts, which included coordinating a response with Bossier City police, resulted in saving the friend’s life. Furthermore, the dispatcher called a few days later to check on the friend, Garrett said.

“She didn’t know me or my husband or my friend, (but) she was concerned for the welfare and safety of our friend. It made me feel good to know she actually cared.”

Like Garrett, many of the citizens who wrote letters acknowledge while some officers may be guilty of bad behavior, they are not representative of the whole.

“I have respect for most of the individuals (who) wear (the uniform),” said Shreveporter Don Owen, who wrote a letter in August praising an officer who responded to the burglary of his garage. “I know there are some bad eggs, as there are in any group. I am basically a fan of the police. I know they do a great job under difficult conditions.”




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