MARC CHASE: A show of force or farce at NIRPC meeting?

2013-06-06T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: A show of force or farce at NIRPC meeting?Marc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
June 06, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Beware of wheelchair users, blind men, cane users and an 84-year-old carrying homemade poster-board signs. These folks might roll up the signs and use them as weapons.

Beware, but fear not. Officers are standing by.

With a touch of infused sarcasm, that describes a page from the Portage public relations playbook at a recent public meeting of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.

Mere police presence can be an effective policing tool, so Portage Mayor James Snyder, who was at the NIRPC meeting, called in between three and four police officers after these sign-toting disabled folks arrived to exercise their right to be at the meeting.

I take Snyder at his word that he was just trying to create a calming effect at a potentially contentious meeting attended by the disabled folks and their Everybody Counts advocacy group leader Teresa Torres.

Snyder said the police were called in because the folks were seen as protesters — because they were toting signs — and the city has a duty to have a police presence in the face of protest.

Snyder has every duty to make public meetings in his city safe.

But one police officer for every two or three of the eight wheelchair-using, walker-using, cane-using, blind and elderly folks? By all accounts I've heard, these folks were mostly sitting quietly with their signs at floor level, sipping coffee and eating pink-frosted cookies.

And nothing screams 911 like pink-frosted cookies.

The handful of folks noted above showed up at the meeting to voice their complaints — as is allowed in public meetings. They take particular umbrage with what they feel are shoddy or nonexistent regional transportation resources and feel their voice isn't being taken into account in NIRPC's plans.

These folks were armed with those exceptionally deadly sections of poster-board, bearing violence-inducing messages like, "Listen to Us!" and "Liar Liar Plans on Fire!"

The police aren't in the cross-hairs of this criticism. They were just doing their jobs and were courteous about it. And I believe Snyder was trying to do what he thought was right.

But it's hard to justify four officers to watch over eight folks with pretty significant disabilities. Were they really posing any more of a threat than a potentially large paper cut from the poster boards?

Open government meetings are the law. But how truly open are meetings when police are specifically called in response to rule-abiding folks?

Snyder said he is looking at keeping at least one officer for security at every NIRPC meeting from now on. All sarcasm aside, this is a great idea. It would show consistency, unlike calling in the cops specifically to monitor the Everybody Counts folks.

Otherwise, this police presence doesn't resonate as anything but overkill.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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