By VAL VAN BROCKLIN
Floyd Hall is becoming a folk hero. He’s a core member of a loosely affiliated group that calls themselves the “A-Team” which has turned their frustration at the surge in car thefts into trying to help the police department.
They coordinate on Facebook, and Hall estimates he, along with the A-Team volunteers, have helped find and recover 400 or more stolen vehicles. That effort got Hall charged by Anchorage police with the misdemeanor crime of reckless driving.
Seems Hall spotted a white truck with stolen plates and chased it. According to police, Hall drove at high rates of speed. Hall says he wasn’t driving that fast and wasn’t trying to do anything that crazy. The pursuit ended with the stolen truck stopping and one of its occupants getting out and shooting at Hall’s car.
In court, Hall was offered a 30-day sentence with 30 days suspended, and a fine. He plans to fight the charge. He was accompanied in court by fans wearing “Let Floyd Go!” T-shirts.
The city’s offer would saddle Hall with a criminal conviction and require the seasonally employed snowplow driver living on a fixed income to pay a fine he likely can ill afford. That would be his reward for trying to help the police and a community increasingly victimized and frustrated by a rise in property crime.
I understand the city’s concern with the danger of speeding car chases and criminals shooting at volunteer citizen activists. But even assuming the city can prove Hall drove “in a manner that creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm to a person or to property” – a requirement for a reckless driving conviction – there’s a much better way to handle this case.
Community-oriented policing promotes the use of partnerships and problem-solving to address public safety issues. The city has a unique opportunity to do that with Floyd Hall and the A-Team.
First, the municipal prosecutor should offer Hall a suspended imposition of sentence on two conditions: 1. he meet with a police member of the property crimes unit and the two arrange a meeting with members of the A-Team to discuss safe and legal ways for team members to help the police; and 2. he have no other driving violations for 30 days. If the prosecutor’s office wants to keep a fine in place they should agree it’s been paid (many times over) by the volunteer community work service Hall has already provided in the recovery of numerous stolen vehicles. A suspended imposition of sentence means Hall could clear his record of the criminal conviction if he meets the conditions.
But the city shouldn’t stop there. The meeting with the A-Team (which could involve a municipal prosecutor explaining the law regarding defense of property and citizen arrest authority) could be a first step in forming a longer-term, problem-solving partnership.
The U.S. Department of Justice has an Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) responsible for advancing the practice of community policing by the nation’s state, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement agencies through information and grant resources. Their website has information about how to apply for grants to fund cooperative agreements between a group like the A-Team and the police department.
Presumably the city has employees familiar with grant writing. Such personnel might also be enlisted to assist with a COPS grant application that could fund some of the A-Team’s training and efforts and coordination with the police department. Maybe these volunteer citizen activists could at least get gas money for their efforts. And maybe the city could find a way to provide them some free recognition and appreciation.
The police department has a Citizen Police Academy designed to promote and enhance citizen understanding and awareness of the role of the Anchorage Police Department within our community. Perhaps that should be expanded to include ways that citizens can help make their communities safer in partnership with the police, with Floyd and the A-Team as an example. They already have expertise in using social media to launch and coordinate citizen activism.
The Mayor’s Office has a Public Safety Advisory Commission that identifies public safety issues of concern to the citizens of the municipality and advises the mayor and Assembly on these issues. The commission purportedly accomplishes this by soliciting input from the public and working closely with the Anchorage Police Department, Anchorage Fire Department, and Office of Emergency Management. The commission is supposed to meet on the second Wednesday of every month. They should invite Hall and the A-Team to come give them input on the rising stolen car problem.
It takes a community to solve a community’s problems. Floyd Hall and the A-Team are trying. They deserve support and direction – not punishment.
Val Van Brocklin is a former Alaska state and federal prosecutor who trains professionals on criminal justice topics nationwide. She lives in Anchorage.