By Ed Runyan
In a town that has encouraged citizens to help police by serving as an extra set of eyes and ears, did a downtown resident go too far by slapping handcuffs on a woman he says tried to rob him?
Law Director Greg Hicks says he probably did — not because he did anything wrong, but because of the potential harm he could have brought upon himself.
“A phone call and an accurate description might have been a better idea,” Hicks said of Aaron Chine, 31, who made a citizen’s arrest at 8:18 p.m. Sunday in the alley beside Comfort Inn on Courthouse Square.
Chine decided about a week ago to begin to patrol the area around his home on Courthouse Square because of the amount of vagrancy and crime in the downtown area.
He was on such a patrol Sunday when Laura K. Hall, 47, of Laird Avenue, approached Chine asking for money. Chine told her no, he says. But Hall persisted, saying she would “pull out her knife and cut him,” according to a police report.
Chine put his handcuffs on Hall and called police, who took her into custody. Prosecutors later charged Hall with felony “attempt to commit an offense.” A municipal court judged ordered that Hall be held in the county jail without eligibility to make bond.
Hicks said that when he talks to the participants in Warren’s Citizens Police Academy — citizens who receive training from police officers on how to help police do their job — he always stresses that the public plays an important role in preventing crime, but they should avoid getting into an altercation.
“Their mere presence is a deterrent to crime ... but I don’t want to see someone get hurt,” Hicks said.
In the case of Hall, she threatened to use a knife — and getting slashed across the neck with a razor could kill a person, Hicks noted.
Another danger to someone such as Chine is that he might get sued, Hicks said.
Police officers go through hundreds of hours of training to learn how to handle crime suspects, and they still get sued.
Chine knew enough to use his handcuffs on Hall only after she allegedly committed a felony offense, Hicks said, but how many citizens know what elements of a crime make them a felony or misdemeanor?
If she’d only said, “I’ll beat you up,” that might have been only a misdemeanor offense, and a citizen would have no grounds to restrain someone for such a thing, Hicks said.
Further, criminals sometimes claim to have suffered an injury in the course of a struggle with police. Police departments have insurance for that, but a citizen doesn’t, Hicks added.
Chine, for his part, says never planned to use handcuffs, saying they were for a “worse-case scenario” only.
“I’m not out there trying to clean up the streets by myself,” Chine said.
But a couple of weeks ago, he became concerned about the downtown area he loves. He found that he and his girlfriend couldn’t walk a short distance down the sidewalk at night without being approached several times by people wanting money.
Then, a couple of businesses downtown were robbed.
“How tired of this stuff do we have to be before we do something?” Chine asked.
He has lived downtown for four years, and he says the number of people sleeping in Courthouse Park and bothering people downtown has increased significantly.
“I love it,” he said of living downtown, “but it’s getting harder to enjoy it.”