Hummer: It’s our job to make sure the police do theirs


An officer waits at the entryway to the old ISU Dairy Farm where an ISU police officer found a body at approximately 8:30 p.m. Wednesday April 14, 2010 near the corner of Mortensen and Hayward.

Thomas Hummer

All the names in this article have been changed to protect peoples’ safety and privacy.

Steve has always been an easy-going guy. He’s never one to start confrontations, almost always laid back and has a multitude of friends who would testify to this in a heartbeat — myself being one of them. You can imagine my surprise when Steve told me he began taking self-defense classes because he feared for his safety.

I simply couldn’t imagine anyone going out of their way to hurt Steve, and I told him so.

“Well, let me tell you why I’m taking the classes,” he said.

“A few weeks ago, I got into an argument with a co-worker of mine named Jeff. He’s a really irrational guy, and things escalated pretty quickly. Our manager stepped in to try and calm Jeff down, but he just got angrier and turned on my manager. Soon after, Jeff got fired.”

“The day after Jeff got fired, I happened to run into him at the movie theater in North Grand Mall. He followed me into the bathroom and assaulted me, bashing my head into the tiled wall.”

Steve refused to fight Jeff, and instead called the police. Jeff ran away, but the police soon arrived at the scene and took a statement from Steve along with several photographs of the massive bump on his head.

“Since Jeff was my co-worker, I had his name, phone number and address available, which I gave to the police,” Steve said. “They said they would contact me with their progress. I left the situation feeling like I had done the right thing in not fighting back and immediately contacting the authorities.”

Much to his surprise, about a week went by and Steve hadn’t heard back from the police. He called the department, and after being on hold for a while and having a brief conversation with a rather rude secretary, Steve discovered that the investigation of his case was still “ongoing.”

“I left that conversation feeling disappointed, angry, confused and a number of other things,” Steve said. “I mean, there was no ‘investigation’ to even be ‘ongoing!’ All they needed to do was show up at his place or track him down somehow. It’s not like the guy skipped town! I don’t feel safe knowing that this situation hasn’t been resolved, and the police department clearly isn’t doing their part in taking care of it. It scares me to think that they’re more concerned with kids smoking pot in their dorms than citizens being physically assaulted. I’ve lived in Ames all my life, this is the one time I’ve ever asked anything from the police department, and I feel like my worries aren’t being respected in the least.”

It may be easy for some people brush this off and say that the police have bigger, more important things to worry about; but the truth is that they don’t. They are in the line of public service, and nothing is more important than the public’s safety. This is especially true considering we’ve put so much effort into trying to prevent violent crimes from occurring — if you don’t believe me, try going through airport security — and yet when one happens in our town, minimal action is taken. You’d think with the recent events in Arizona, the police would realize that this kind of unstable behavior is a red flag as to what people are apt to do in the future.

Situations like this are precisely what the law enforcement exists to take care of, and the fact they’re not doing so in a timely manner makes me wonder what they are spending their precious time on. But the inadequacy doesn’t stop on the local level. Here’s another story about the federal law enforcement also failing to pull their weight.

Rob owned and operated a store on eBay. A while back, he noticed two suspicious orders that were made within a day of each other. Both of the orders were for expensive electronics, both were being shipped to the Bronx, and both of the credit cards used had billing addresses in states far away from New York.

“I knew I had a case of identity theft on my hands,” Rob said. “I didn’t ship out the order because it seemed so fishy, and soon enough, I got a phone call from each cardholder saying that my number appeared on their billing statement for a purchase they didn’t make. I explained the situation to them and told them to refute the transactions with their respective credit card companies. I asked them to have their credit card companies and/or the authorities contact me, because I had the street addresses the shipments were supposed to go to, and the IP addresses for the computers the purchases were made from. They were both a little frazzled, but very appreciative.”

About a week went by, and Rob was shocked that he hadn’t received any calls regarding the situation. “As far as I knew, I was the only one with the evidence that could bring the thieves to justice,” he said. “So, I decided to take matters into my own hands.”

“First I called the FBI and some other government agencies who, according to their websites, are supposed to handle this sort of thing. All of them told me the same thing: If it wasn’t your information that was stolen, we can’t do anything for you. Then they recommended that I contact the local authorities.”

“When I called the Ames police, I explained the situation to them. I said ‘I have the documentation to prove that these people attempted identity theft. I also have their street addresses and IP addresses. Can you help me?”

The answer was a resounding “no.” The local law enforcement simply told Rob to contact the FBI, starting the entire cycle over again.

“I don’t get it,” Rob said. “I had the information that could have brought these criminals to justice, but the people whose job it is to make that happen weren’t interested at all. For all I know, the credit card companies could have had the information and contacted the authorities. But what if they didn’t? The people I talked to wouldn’t have known if that was the case, and they still weren’t willing to help.”

Rob was so disheartened after this experience that he closed his online store. “I figured it would only happen again,” he said, “and I really just didn’t want to put up with it. I don’t want to be part of a system that makes it so easy for people to get away with that, and I never want to deal with the unhelpful law enforcement again.”

I’m sure everyone has encountered an impersonal police officer at some point. I’ll even admit that I’ve actually had more positive experiences with the Ames police than negative. However, while an officer’s bedside manner is important, in the long run it only matters as much as having a superbly nice waitress or grocery store clerk. What’s really important is the work that’s going on behind the scenes, and whether it’s getting done efficiently.

Our tax dollars pay these people, so these stories should anger each and every one of you, because either of these situations could happen to you. In the case of the waitress, we can just choose to not tip her as much. But we don’t get to directly decide how much police earn, so it’s up to us to make sure that they’re doing what we pay them to do.