Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Special Memorial Day

Memorial Day has always been special to my family.  Many relatives have served in the U.S. military.  This tradition continues today.  My sister, who is career Army, just returned from another overseas deployment.  She’s been serving for almost 30 years and is a Chief Warrant Officer 5.  Not having served in the military myself, I understand that rank is a pretty big deal.  Her soldiers call her “Chief.”  Her son, a Marine, received the Purple Heart for injuries received in Afghanistan.  Another nephew, also a Marine, returned safely from Afghanistan last year.  I could go on and on.  That’s the life of a military family.

Ryan Fitch with his Afghani interpreter
So, why is this Memorial Day special?  It’s because my own son returned to U.S. soil last week from a six month deployment to Afghanistan.  My wife and I still haven’t been able to see him.  He’s in Arizona at his base.  His wife (and dog) stayed with us while he was deployed.  It was a rough time for her.  All the missed holidays, birthdays, etc.  He knew what he was getting into, but that doesn’t make it any easier.  We’re just glad he’s home safely.  That’s the life of a military family. 

While working a shift at the Lambert USO this past Friday night, I spoke with a Marine who missed his connecting flight on the way to his home in Florida.  It wasn’t just any missed flight.  It was a flight to get married the next day.  He had to call his fiancĂ© to break the bad news.  He wouldn’t be there in time to greet the 250 invited guests.  That’s the life of a military family.
The men and women of our military would tell you that they’re just doing their job.  I think it’s much more than that.  One only needs to visit Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery for proof.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Fake Uplands Park Officer Acquitted

In 2009, Uplands Park “Officer” Lamont Aikens was driving a police car at high speed in a pursuit that ended tragically when the car he was chasing crashed and killed an innocent motorist – a mother of four.  Aikens was wearing a police uniform and carrying a weapon, according to the St. Louis City detective who investigated the crash.  The report filed by Aikens referred to himself as a “police officer.”  A fellow Uplands Park officer said that Aikens drove a police car by himself and made arrests.  Aikens wrote traffic tickets, but would sign another officer’s name to the tickets.

So, what’s the problem? 
The problem is that Aikens never attended a police academy.  By law, he couldn't function or act as a police officer.  He probably could have attended the police academy, but presumably because of his 18 arrests (including two felonies), he didn’t. 

This didn’t stop officials in Uplands Park from putting him to work in a police car.  His pursuit that night cost the 450 residents of Uplands Park $3.1 million, which was awarded in a lawsuit.  That’s about $7,000 for every man, woman and child living in the tiny cash-strapped village.  They don’t even have enough insurance to cover the damages.
On Friday, St. Louis County Circuit Judge Dennis Smith acquitted Aikens of acting as a police officer without a valid peace officer license.  I do not know Judge Smith and I will not question his authority.  But, really, what would it take to convict someone of this type of crime?  Aikens defense was that he was following city policy that allowed him to act as a police officer, so long as he had a “real” police officer seated next to him.  I’ll have to remember that one next time I find an unlicensed driver operating a motor vehicle with a licensed driver next to him.  But I digress.
A few months ago, the Uplands Park Village Board voted to disband their police department for financial reasons (imagine that).  All Uplands Park police personnel were dismissed and Velda City was hired to provide police services. 

Now, here’s the next tragedy about to happen:  The newly elected Uplands Park Village Board is working hard to bring back their police department.  It might happen in the next few weeks.
That’s great news for “Officer” Lamont Aikens.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Honor, Duty & Dedication

Today, at our Annual Police Memorial Service in Clayton, we recognized the sacrifice of the nine St. Louis County police officers who have died in the line of duty.  This is the start of National Police Week, which was proclaimed by President John F. Kennedy.  I knew six of the officers who died.  I’ve gotten to know their families very well over the years. 

Each year, I see the children of Sgt. Rick Weinhold (Killed in the Line of Duty on October 31, 2000) growing into young adults.  Rick’s widow, Julie, said that both of her sons want to be county police officers when they finish college.  Imagine the courage of a woman who lost her husband in a vicious shooting allowing her children to become police officers.  She is one of the strongest women I know.   

After today’s Memorial Service, we had our monthly Police Board meeting.  At the meeting, I was honored to present awards to several of our officers.  One of the officers was recognized with a “Lifesaving Award.”   The officer performed CPR and saved the life of a man at the South County Mall.  Just two hours after receiving his award, this same officer was in a life or death shootout in Eureka.  Thankfully, he wasn't seriously injured.  This is the life of a police officer.  Things can and will change in a heartbeat.
The dedication of our officers never ceases to amaze me.  They have every right to question their commitment to the profession, after going four years without a pay raise, higher insurance rates and constant public scrutiny.  But they keep on going.  When the call for help goes out, they respond.  Thank God. 

Here’s hoping for a safe Police Week.  We had another close call today.  Keep our officers in your thoughts and prayers.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Come on May 30th !!!

Now that the Kentucky Derby is over, it’s time to root for something else:  Come on May 30th.  Come on May 30th.
What’s the big deal about May 30th?  It’s the Missouri General Assembly’s official adjournment.  They have to shut down by midnight.  Why should the St. Louis County police chief be concerned about the end of a legislative season?  It’s not the end of it that I’m worried about.  It’s what happens between now and then.
House Bill 46 has been perfected and sent to the Senate.  It was sponsored by Rep. Casey Guernsey, a farmer from western Missouri.  What will the bill do?  It will essentially shut down flight operations for Metro Air Support, which is made up of St. Louis City and County Police and the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department.  Many of you have seen the helicopters of Metro Air Support in the sky over crime scenes, vehicle pursuits and looking for lost children.
Why does a farmer from western Missouri care about airborne law enforcement in St. Louis?  He doesn’t.  He’s mostly afraid of unmanned drones roaming our skies.  However, the bill was tweaked to include “manned” law enforcement flights, unless officers have reasonable suspicion and believe they need to take to the air to prevent imminent danger to life.  That’s a pretty high hurdle in order to get into the air. 

The paranoia in Jefferson City this session has gotten silly.  Perhaps I’d be okay with the legislature banning manned law enforcement aircraft over Missouri under one circumstance:  They can only ban the black helicopters with the darked out windows circling overhead. 
Come on May 30th !!