For some people, it’s hard to forgive off-duty police officers who drove through their neighborhood throwing eggs at their houses.
In Gainesville’s Porters Community neighborhood five years after an incident involving the Gainesville Police Department, it is hard for some residents to trust the police.
It was Nov. 2008 when three off-duty police officers drove through the neighborhood at night throwing eggs at residents’ homes from a pickup to “harass the prostitutes and drug dealers,” according to an investigation.
Ben Tobias, spokesman for the Gainesville Police Department, said it created some skepticism in Porters Community. It is important, he said, for the people living in the community to be comfortable going to the police with problems.
After the incident, Tobias said, it took some time for the community to regain its trust in the police department.
Some people have regained that trust, but some have not.
Community Looking Out For Each Other
Marvin Anderson, who moved to Porters Community in January 2009 after his mother-in-law passed away, said he hardly ever sees the police checking up on the neighborhood.
“To me, they’re not really doing what they’re supposed to be doing for this community,” he said.
Anderson is around the neighborhood in the morning often but only sees the police a couple times a week. And when he does see them, he said, it is during those early-morning hours when things are quiet.
While things have improved since the incident, he said, there is still a lot of drug activity going on, and he doesn’t expect the police to solve people’s problems for them. He feels it is important for people in the community to look out for each other.
Anderson would like to see the police come by once or twice a day, especially when kids are getting out of school. He said he worries about kids seeing things that they should not, including drug usage and other illegal activity.
Active in the Community’
Tobias said since the incident, however, the police department has made an effort to give citizens a safe and comfortable place to discuss neighborhood issues, to include organizing crime watch groups and holding community meetings.
Tony Jones, GPD police chief is also very active in the community, Tobias said.
“Chief Jones is very much known for his ability to literally immerse himself in the community,” Tobias said. “He doesn’t just work eight to five.”
Tobias said one thing Jones does is a monthly event where he goes out and walks a beat. People are invited to walk alongside him and have an “open and honest dialogue” about what is happening in their community.
Porters Community has been the focus of the walk a couple of times. Tobias said it helps to enhance the public trust and show that the police are there to protect and serve the community.
Hazen Wheeler, who moved to the neighborhood in 1989, said that the police have done a wonderful job repairing their relationship since the egg-throwing incident and that she often sees them patrolling the neighborhood.
Conversely, Chris Turner, a resident of Porters Community for 18 years, said he hasn’t seen much change since the incident.
Putting Patrols Where They Need to Be
The department has crime analysts who figure out where crime is likely to occur, Tobias said. The areas where officers patrol on any given day are based on that crime data.
Some officers may also work off hunches or tips from people on the streets as well, he said.
Diane Bumbray, a resident of Porters Community since 2008, said that as a former police chief’s assistant in Virginia, she understands both sides of the issue and believes that the egg-throwing ordeal was an isolated incident.
She said she also thinks that everyone has learned from the incident, and the police department has been very supportive since then.
And while it is difficult for some people to trust the police, Bumbray said, residents are beginning to realize the police are there to protect them. She often sees the police ride through and stop to talk to people in the neighborhood.
Establishing a rapport with citizens is important, she said, no matter what neighborhood they might be in. Some people may never trust the police, but she believes there is plenty of room for optimism in Porters Community.
Bumbray grew up in low-income housing in Gainesville in the 1970s said she has seen the quality of life for African-Americans continue to improve. And as she continues to see her community become more integrated, she has hope for the future.
“You go to church, and you see a mixed congregation,” Bumbray said. “And I’m thinking, ‘This is what Heaven’s going to look like.’”