by Robin Gee
Smash and grab through a car window. A fistfight in a bar parking lot. A purse snatched from a shopping cart. Petty theft, disorderly conduct and other nonviolent offenses happen all the time — even in our community.
Kentucky law requires that for most of these crimes, known legally as misdemeanors, a police officer must be present and witness them happening to write a citation or make an arrest.
As a result, many of these offenses go unreported, and those who witness or are victimized can feel as though their complaints are being ignored.
At the December Dayton City Council meeting, Dayton Police Chief David Halfhill said he wanted to clear up any misunderstandings the public might have about how misdemeanors are handled.
With the notable exceptions of domestic violence assaults, shoplifting and a few other offenses, police officers cannot cite or arrest someone if the officer was not there when it happened, even if there is a witness, he said.
“We have to follow the law ourselves to protect the city from a lawsuit,” he added. “Yet we do want to help out as best we can by explaining the law to our citizens and making clear what they can do.”
Citizen involvement is key
This is where citizen action takes over, he said. Witnesses to these misdemeanors are encouraged to report them to the police department.
After a report is made, a supervisor will review it and make a copy available. The witness must then take the copy to the city attorney’s office to file a complaint affidavit. The city attorney will determine if there is enough information to be brought before a judge for follow up, investigation and action.
While he encourages those who have witnessed a misdemeanor to come forward and make a formal complaint, Chief Halfhill sings the praises of community involvement in preventing such incidents in the first place.
The Neighborhood Watch program helps
“Since we started a Neighborhood Watch program, calls about suspicious activity have gone up. Our numbers are down for theft, burglary and criminal mischief.”
Coincidence? Chief Halfhill doesn’t think so. “We’ve noticed a big swing in more citizens getting involved to make this a better place to live. I have been a resident of the city for 17 years, and I have often heard comments by people who say they see things but don’t call. They don’t want to bother the police or tie up the 9-1-1 line. But, we are happy to check things out. The more people get involved the better.”
In January 2015, the police department added SentiGuard, an application for mobile devices that allows people to report crime tips anonymously and directly. The app has been a valuable additional tool, says the chief.
The Neighborhood Watch program meets about every three months. To sign up, call the Dayton City Police Department at 859-261-1471 and watch the Dayton KY Police Department page on Facebook for the next meeting. To download SentiGuard, go to sentiguard.com.