I’ve been disappointed, though not surprised, that the media — and especially Jordan Levy — have categorized the movement for Chief Gemme to resign as little more than a reaction to a few bad tweets.
If only it were so simple.
If only we were so unreasonable.
This is not a case of a few touchy liberals trying to violate someone’s first amendment rights.
This is a case of a police chief who acts as if he is above the law and a city government who continually tells him he is above the law. To wit:
- A young woman’s civil rights were violated, and the response from the WPD is that the “detectives involved in this case continue to perform their duties as investigators with the full support and confidence of the police administration.”
- For many law-abiding Worcester residents, the chief has interfered with the exercise of their second amendment rights.
- We continue to fight David Rawlston on the matter of his employment while Mark Rojas is allowed to stay on the payroll and numerous other officers have been involved in various lawsuits without so much as a reprimand (or in some cases, an investigation).
- Speaking of Mark Rojas, the WPD was involved in a lawsuit to keep public information about him out of the public’s hands. Not only did they violate the law by delaying response to the T&G’s request, they also blacked out many of the absurdly priced pages.
- In an unfair labor practice complaint, “the state found probable cause to believe the Police Department retaliated against the union president” Stephen Gunnerson.
- The chief’s brother was “the city’s highest overtime earner for the second year in a row.”
- This is the same brother who was involved in a conflict with Lt. Jane McGrath that led to her being transferred to a different division.
The press releases and the Twitter comments were just the latest missteps, and for some, they were the tipping point.
In a normal city, there would have been a public outcry long before we ever witnessed a Twitter war with a newspaper columnist.
But in Worcester, we have a citywide Stockholm Syndrome and collective amnesia that there was ever a safe city called Worcester that existed before Gary Gemme was police chief.
For those of you who can’t remember back eight years, Worcester was safe then.
Worcester has been pretty safe for at least twenty years.
There are no barbarians at the gates waiting for the moment Gary Gemme gets demoted back to captain so that they can run amok in the streets of Worcester.
We have been told that Gary Gemme is a good manager.
But the police — and the city — need more than just a good manager. The chief should also be the intermediary between the civilian government and the armed constabulary — a servant of the former, while at the same time a leader of the latter. It’s not a job for just any cop. It requires a sense of diplomacy and a vigilant determination that his/her force should be a model of ethical policing and as transparent as humanly possible, to avoid allegations of police wrong-doing.
The chief is the public face of the police. For those of us who do not attend neighborhood meetings or do not see a police officer in our day-to-day lives, the chief is the Worcester Police.
So when we see the police chief engaged in an extended war with “Miss Priss” while the T&G asks why the FBI put an asterisk next to the city’s rape statistics, we wonder what the priorities of the police really are.
When the police chief says “if you have a judge – and I’m not directing this at any particular judge,” and then proceeds to describe the judge he has mentioned by name, you wonder if all the stories of retaliation are true.
We do not need to choose between safety and transparency, or between security and civil rights.
We already have the safety and security. We’ve had those for a very long time.
I am concerned that the chief believes that transparency is a hindrance to his work, and that the public does not have a right to know what is being done in their name.
I am concerned that the chief does not take people’s second and fifth amendment rights as seriously as he should as an officer of the law.
And I am concerned that people feel powerless. Their elected officials will obviously not demand transparency or the upholding of civil rights. In fact, most of those elected officials agree with the chief when he tells them that we need to sacrifice those things in service to safety.
This has nothing to do with Twitter and everything to do with a city’s chief executive and its elected officials who tell a man they have full confidence in him when they know that those under his command have violated a girl’s fifth amendment rights.
This has nothing to do with social media and everything to do with a chief who has told us he would be open and transparent while he flouts both the spirit and the letter of public records law.
If those who represent us are unwilling to say that this behavior is unacceptable, that the person who is supposed to uphold the law should also follow the law, then we must do it for ourselves. Let’s all of us snap out of our apathy-induced amnesia and remember all of the things that have happened under Chief Gemme; let us not be afraid to remind our elected officials of this history of obstruction, mismanagement and petty reprisals. Let us not re-elect anyone on the City Council who fails to hold the city manager accountable for patting Chief Gemme on the back with a hearty “attaboy” instead of the reproach he deserves.