By EMMALEE C. TORISK | firstname.lastname@example.org
Keith Yeropoli recalls a time not long ago in Campbell when crime — from nonchalantly gliding through stop signs to openly filling hollowed cigars with marijuana in a convenience store parking lot — was widespread.
And the consequences were few.
“You could do anything you wanted in this city,” said Yeropoli, 45, a lifelong city resident. “It was like an open gym. You could run around like you were an eighth-grader on the playground.”
But a few months ago, around the time Chief Drew Rauzan assumed the top post in the Campbell Police Department, Yeropoli began to notice an obvious shift in policing.
For the first time in a long while, officers on patrol in Campbell were “doing their jobs how they should be done,” Yeropoli said, and were actively going after any violators of the law.
The police department “used to be a joke,” Yeropoli said. “[Now], the word on the street is, if you have drugs or anything, don’t come through Campbell. That’s what we want. That’s what we pay taxes for.”
Last year, the Campbell Police Department recorded 2,424 traffic citations, with 1,670 of those occurring between July and December. Rauzan took over the department as interim chief in late June and was sworn in as chief in November.
In 2012, the department had 1,700 traffic citations, and 1,829 in 2011.
The number of criminal cases filed in Campbell Municipal Court by the police department increased accordingly as well, from 278 in 2012 to 633 in 2013.
Christine Maker, clerk of Campbell Municipal Court, added that Tuesdays and Fridays — the days that court is in session in Campbell, beginning at 9 a.m. — are extraordinarily busy as of late, with an “overabundance of people in our courtroom” and court itself stretching into the early afternoon.
“They are buckling down,” said Maker, referring to the city’s police officers. “They’ve brought into the city quite a bit of money from tickets and drugs found.”
Maker added that while the fine varies depending upon the charge, the court cost is $103, of which about $30 goes directly to the city.
Some aren’t so sure about the police department’s new approach, however, and feel as though officers are looking for any excuse to stop drivers. Some residents say that instead of arresting criminals and getting drugs and weapons off the streets, the police are sticking more people with more tickets for relatively minor infractions.
Beth Dotson of Campbell said she can understand it — to a point. She added that the increased traffic stops, along with officers’ stopping people walking down the street “just to see who they are,” haven’t halted crime.
In many regards, the department’s officers are just going overboard, she said.
“Maybe they have made people slow down, and they are not speeding through our city or running stop signs,” Dotson said. “But the drugs are still here, and so are the criminals.”
Beth Beeson, also of Campbell, said recent actions of the police department have been somewhat excessive and that she doesn’t necessarily agree with many of them.
Overall, though, Beeson said she’s been in favor of the changes as they’ve already helped to make Campbell a safer place, as well as reduce some of the negativity that has long been associated with the city. But people’s attitudes must change, too.
The Campbell Police Department of years ago was made up of those who lived in the city and knew its residents. In contrast, today’s department consists of many officers who aren’t from Campbell — and “don’t know us from Adam,” Beeson said. They’re “just going by their laws,” she added.
“You’ve got to take the good with the bad,” Beeson said. “Campbell police are there to do their job — a job a lot of people may not be liking. A lot of people are getting upset that they’re getting tickets. If you’re getting upset at that, maybe you shouldn’t be breaking the law.”
Kim Benedis Ciccolelli, who lives in Springfield but still has family in Campbell, emphasized that change was exactly what the city needed.
She’s glad that receiving a ticket is no longer based on “who you know,” but rather on whether an action is legal or illegal, and doesn’t understand why residents “are crying like children being disciplined from their parents.”
“You can’t have your cake and eat it too,” Ciccolelli said. “Just stay legal. Is it that hard? ... I’m very proud that they’re actually taking the steps to clean up that city.”
Most opinions recently voiced to the Campbell Police Department have been positive, Rauzan said, though some negatives have surfaced as well.
The most common grievances?
Being arrested or receiving a ticket. But not once has Rauzan heard a complaint where a citizen claims he didn’t do what he was arrested or cited for.
He explained that criminals typically gravitate toward the areas they believe society has seemingly forgotten about. Minor-offense enforcement, he said, has been shown to have the greatest impact on leading them to think otherwise — and keeping out the major offenders and offenses.
The more-aggressive traffic enforcement heightens the police department’s visibility in the community, too, making residents feel safer, Rauzan said. He noted that being pulled over for those minor offenses usually won’t lead to a ticket anyway, unless the traffic stop produces a “greater crime” such as having a weapon or drugs in the car. A warning typically will suffice.
“You pay a 2.5 percent income tax to fund our police department, and you’re funding us whether we go out and find a whole lot of people, or we sit around and twiddle our thumbs,” Rauzan said. “I believe if you’re getting paid to do a job, you do it.”
Ed Villone, commander of the Youngstown State University Police Academy, added that the law is vast, which is something that many people fail to realize. Ignorance of it is not a valid excuse, however, and neither is accusing officers of making up violations just to pull over a driver.
“Justice is blind and is weighed fairly and evenly,” Villone said. “The public needs to do their part by being informed of the law and complying with the law.”
The public also should commend the police department’s officers for what they’re doing in the community, Villone said. He acknowledged he doesn’t understand why people would be upset by officers’ simple enforcement of the law, because if they weren’t doing their job, people would be complaining then, too.
And as for Yeropoli, he has no qualms with the Campbell Police Department’s efforts. In fact, he’d like to see even more officers on patrol, continuing to clear the city of its crime and criminals.
“It’s like taking out the trash,” Yeropoli said. “When you take out the trash, do you think about it after? That’s what we feel like in this city.”