Emotions run high at meeting about police enforcement in Clinton

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Frank Schultz
Tuesday, August 22, 2017

CLINTON -- Questions about police behavior are shredding the fabric of community in this tiny village.

The rips and tatters were on display at Monday night's village board meeting, where people were invited to air the issue. More than 150 people turned out, about 10 percent of the adult population.

Speakers were largely well behaved, but people on both sides of the question displayed the hurt they feel.

On both sides, people said they were wrongly accused.

The question: Are police being overzealous in enforcing laws?

Business owners said they are not against police doing their jobs and not in favor of police backing away from drunken driving arrests, as they have been accused.

The police chief has said drunken-driving arrests have increased in the past two years.

Kathy Collins spoke for the chamber of commerce: “We welcome the chance to meet with the village board to address what we see as overzealous policing.”

Collins said businesses want to work with the board to promote a safe and welcoming community.

“It is affecting local businesses, not just the bar owners,” Collins said. “Ninety-five percent of local businesses polled agreed, there is a problem. When I have customers who refuse to come back to Clinton due to the overzealous policing, it is an issue. ... They refuse to come back. They're not shopping downtown, they're not having lunch, they're not frequenting the businesses.”

Collins said falsehoods have been shared on social media, including the allegation that business owners condone drunken driving.

“This is Clinton. We're better than that,” she said.

Gyda Hooker, the wife of Police Chief David Hooker, said the past week has been “hell” for her and her family because of all the finger-pointing.

Her family chose Clinton for the sense of community, Hooker said, but: “I don't feel that warm and fuzzy feeling anymore, and it's really upsetting.”

People have had their jobs threatened in public, Hooker said.

“It's got to stop. This is getting out of hand,” she added.

Hooker said her husband could not attend because he was in the hospital. She did not say why.

One thing several speakers on both sides mentioned was a respect for the chief.

Hooker said her husband kept asking for people to cite specific instances where officers went overboard so he could investigate them, but she said few have come forward.

People have told her they are afraid of retaliation if they complain, she said, and that makes her sick because her husband values his integrity so highly.

Other defenders of the police suggested that if people are not doing anything wrong, they should not be afraid of the police.

Clinton police officer Mike Rufer, who works third shift, said it's his job to stop vehicles with violations, and when he does, it's his job to find out who is in the car and what they are doing.

"I was hired to do a job that most people here wouldn't want to do,” Rufer said, adding that he has to approach cars, not knowing if someone has a gun inside.

Rufer said he has issued 102 citations in the past eight months, along with 83 warnings.

“I feel I'm a very fair officer,” he said, noting that if he lets a drunken driver go, the whole village would have to pay for whatever lawsuit arises from that action.

Antiques shop owner Steve Bailey said 95 percent of his business is gone because of police actions. He said he saw seven or eight motorists pulled over in one night, and he thinks his neighbors are being harassed for having noisy fun.

Tom Peterson said he had submitted his name for a village committee, but somehow two letters got lost at village hall. He called “some” village board members “liars,” although he did not name them or say what the lies were.

Peterson said others have stated that the previous police chief was lax on enforcement, but that's not true.

Gene VanGalder said he believes there are good people on both sides who can work this out.

The business owners are not just out for their bottom lines, and they want a better community, VanGalder said, while the police are doing the best they can.

“Clinton's going to get by this ... negativism,” and continue to work on making itself a desirable place to shop and live, VanGalder added.

Chamber of commerce President Tim Pogorelski called for a closed-door meeting with the board.

Village Board President Connie Tracy said at the start that board members would not speak or take action on the matter at the meeting. They did not.

Tracy urged residents to submit questions they want answered. And if they are not happy with what they hear, they should contact the board, she said.

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