Ferguson Township Police responded to a reported act of vandalism at Tom Tudek Memorial Park about 12:30 pm on Sunday afternoon, September 17. A woman called the police from the park when she discovered that a bench along the gravel path down from the playground had been vandalized.
A person or persons unknown had spray painted the “n-word” on the bench. The memorial bench, which was gifted to the park by the siblings of the man it honors, is in a high-profile location along the path. The man it remembers was not a person of color.
Officer Walter Embser responded to the call by bringing three cleaning agents with him from the Ferguson Township Police Department and immediately cleaned the paint off the bench. He also walked around the park to ensure that no other benches or park property had been vandalized.
“The offensive racial slur was cleaned off within an hour of being discovered,” said Ferguson Township Chief of Police Chris Albright. He expressed appreciation for the woman who reported it so that police could take immediate action.
“If you see something like this, please report it to us immediately,” Chief Albright said. “That’s not what this community is. This is a word that hurts and no one wants to see it.”
“Was this motivated by nothing but hate, or is this a teachable moment?"
Police are investigating the incident without much evidence to go on. “We don’t know the motive or the intention — whether this was acting out by kids who should know better or an act designed to intimidate,” Chief Albright said. “Was this motivated by nothing but hate, or is this a teachable moment for young people who may have painted the word knowing it was wrong, but not understanding what it means, where it came from, and why it’s so hurtful to African Americans?”
He hopes that whoever perpretrated the act will tell someone, leading to apprehension and appropriate police action. Penalties will include restitution for the time and supplies it took to clean it.
“If kids did this, their parents very likely would pay a fine and police may recommend some kind of diversionary action, such as community service, to raise their awareness of the hurtful, offensive meaning of this word,” he said.
Several years ago, the FTPD arrested a group of kids who spray painted racial slurs and other graffiti in a small tunnel on Circleville Road near Blue Course Drive. Their parents were ordered to pay restitution and had to sit down with their kids to talk about what they did.
“If it turns out to be a crime motivated by sheer hate, we will arrest and file appropriate charges,” Chief Albright added. “There are different statutes in the crime code we can use to charge perpetrators who engage in ethnic intimidation, which would include enhanced penalties,” he said. Police would also put the victims in touch with the resources they need.
FTPD committed to community policing without bias
A poster hung prominently in the department identifies and defines all hate groups that are operating in the United States, serving as a guide for its officers.
Officers are hired and trained with the expectation that they will police the community without bias. As a fully accredited police department, it must adhere to policies that prohibit bias-based policing, and continue to meet that expectation when it’s time to become reaccredited every three years.
Maintaining accreditation also requires an annual administrative review of the department to determine whether it had a disproportionate number of arrests of minorities.
During those years when the stats were skewed, the department had arrested career criminals from other cities who targeted the State College area for their activities. “They came to us,” Chief Albright said.
New applicants for the department must at first pass a basic standardized written test that includes grammar, spelling, reading comprehension and math, followed by physical agility and psychological tests, as well as background checks. During the interview phase, applicants view videos of criminal activity and are asked what they would do in each situation, how they would handle it, and why. “Even if they don’t come up with the right answer,” Chief Albright said, “we want to hear their logic — how they explain themselves. The Police Academy can teach them the right answer, but their ethics and personal beliefs are what we want to hear.”
Department aims to promote diversity in the police force
The department has had mixed success in attracting diverse candidates as officers. “We do experience a lack of diversity in the employment pool,” he said, “but we promote openings everywhere we can to encourage people to take the police test.”
In November, one of two new Township officers who will be joining the department will be Lauren Neely, the first woman since former Chief of Police Diane Conrad retired in June.
Please report any incidents of hate crimes and activities
“While we’re not seeing a dramatic increase in hate crimes in our area,” he added, “the department is committed to investigating all incidents and encourages people to report such incidents if they can do so safely. Do not get involved if you, yourself, will be at risk. Do use your smart phone safely and discreetly to photograph the perpetrators so that we have an image we can distribute.”
Chief Albright, who was named to head the department in June, said his officers are in the community to help. “We aim to get people the help they need before a situation escalates.”
Anyone who may have information about this incident is asked to call the police at (814) 237-1172, or (800)-479-0050.
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